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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

From the Root Cellar - 7.29.08

Depending on where, who, and what you were in the mid-nineties, the name Finley Quaye may or may not be familiar to you. But if it's not, it most definitely should be.

When I first encountered Quaye, it was at a key moment in my life; I was a new husband and father, a barely reformed hooligan and, as has been mentioned elsewhere on this blog, also lucky enough to host a weekly local Mississippi radio show that featured above all else, good music. I was also writing a pretty well received weekly column for an alternative newspaper. I had lots of outlets for self-expression. In short, it was a good time for me, though one in which the world as I knew it was in a state of great flux. And also, a time when I was open and hungry for living breathing artists doing something different.

I came to his music already a pretty ferocious fan of reggae, hip hop, soul, rock and roll, jazz, and yes, occasionally even a little pop music. When I opened the infuriating packaging around Finley Quaye's debut CD, Maverick A Strike and put it in the old Pioneer carousel job (truly, my iPod has changed my life), I was immediately and irrevocably hooked. His was a sound that seemed to somehow pull together all of the above, while still coming across as something wholly new. The CD went on constant rotation and stayed there for months. For my 30th birthday party, not to mention the after party after our wedding party, the windows of our old cheap rental were opened wide to let the album serve as the perfect backdrop to good friends, good beer, good fellowship.

Consider this track from Maverick A Strike, "Sunday Shining." While the song practically takes its title, and completely lifts its (for lack of a better word) "chorus," from the phenomenal Bob Marley tune "Sun is Shining" (from one of Bob's best albums - and surely the best for lazing about Spring days, prone in a grassy field - Kaya), it uses Marley's song as but a starting point for something other, something that manages to pull in psychedelic 60's pop, soul horns, and the traditions of multiple crazed dub artists. In sort of the same way good hip hop can build an entirely new song from samples of other, more familiar tunes, drawing on predetermined connections to that music, while still creating a new and different experience of it on the listener's part. Check it out:

You see? But equally important is the way Maverick A Strike goes so many places, and no two songs sound alike. Finley Quaye hits on so many different traditions, many simultaneously, while filtering them all through a uniquely visionary approach to songwriting. And sometimes, honestly, lyrically as well as sonically, the music is so touching it haunts. For an example, listen to "Even After All," also from Quaye's debut, and actually, I'd suggest closing your eyes. I don't think the video adds anything, and may even detract from the simple beauty of the lyrics:

Beautiful, ain't it? Gives me chills sometimes.

I played track after track from this record for a couple of years running on my radio show, The Root Cellar (from which astute readers will realize comes the title of this post), and received many requests for more plays. His second album, Vanguard came out after the Root Cellar shut its doors, though, and I couldn't share it nearly as widely. In any case, it's a good one too.

I'd highly recommend you give this man a shot. Download his first album from iTunes, find a friend with a copy, or buy it from one of the sellers on Amazon (I'm guessing it's out of print at this point). Or pick up the new release of his greatest hits collection, Finley Quaye: The Best of the Epic Years for a wider view. But do get some of it. Especially Maverick A Strike, if you can, and give it a listen, like an album should be heard, with a full run through from start to finish.

And then let me know what you think.

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