Album Reviews

Kent Finlay

Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay

Artist:     Kent Finlay

Album:     Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay

Label:     Eight 30 Records

Release Date:     03/04/2016

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This combination book and cd release celebrates the life and influence of Kent Finlay, a mentor and an inspiration to countless Texas singer-songwriters. Finlay, a songwriter himself, passed away last year, appropriately on Texas Independence Day, at the age of 77. The book describes first in Finlay’s own words, his encounters and relationships with the numerous artists that passed through his Cheatham Street Warehouse venue. The litany of names goes on endlessly. Here are just a few: George Strait (who provides the foreword), Stevie Ray Vaughan, Todd Snider, James McMurtry, Eric Johnson, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. The second half of the book features excerpts from various artists, describing how Finlay’s open mic nights and general hospitality gave them a place to get started or to try out new songs. It’s a quick read, and although I don’t want to spoil it for you, I’ll provide a highlight from each section.

In one section, Finlay describes the night when both Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark were there: “It was Townes’ gig, and Guy and [his wife] Susanna [Clark] were in town and came out. In a few minutes, Guy was up there, and they were swapping songs and everything. This is back when we had a twelve o’clock closing time. It came closing time that night. Nobody wanted to leave, so we just made a deal with everybody. I told them if everybody chug-a-lugs, they could drink Cokes and coffee or whatever they’d want. They just couldn’t have any alcohol. So everybody did, and we just stayed and stayed and stayed and stayed there nearly all night. It was just incredible. It was one of the most magical nights of all time, even though Townes never drew a crowd. Maybe there were forty people. That’s okay, you know. The best crowds for a songwriter night are small.”

From the artists’ section, this one from Joe Ely is pretty vivid: “I was onstage one night, and started playing Butch Hancock’s “Boxcars” with this rumbling bottom beat. Right as we hit that chorus, a train was rumbling down the track and blew its whistle. We all looked at each other. “Wow, that was great timing.” We kept playing the song and got through another verse and heard it coming closer. The whistle was just going like crazy. All of a sudden, there’s this big ka-bamb! – sounded like the train ran into the building. Boom. I stopped the song and opened that big sliding door on the back of the stage. Some drunk had parked his car on the tracks, and the train hit the car and knocked the car over into my rent-a-car. So there was this double train wreck, and my rent-a-car was totaled. It almost seemed like the song attracted the train.” Authors Atkinson and Finlay (Kent’s daughter) do an excellent job of presenting these enjoyable vignettes that provide insight into the artists beyond the songs themselves.

The recording is appropriately a stripped-down collection of 14 tracks, mostly solo with two duets. All songs were either written or co-penned by Finlay. Among the highlights are McMurtry’s “Comfort’s Just a Rifle Shot Away,” Adam Carroll’s “Be Nice to ‘Em Son,” and the ever humorous Steve Poltz’s “The Plight of the Bumblebee.” You can sense the respect these artists have for Finlay both in the introductions and their respectful rendering of the material.

-Jim Hynes

You can purchase Kent Finlay, Dreamer: The Musical Legacy Behind Cheatham Street Warehouse in Kindle and hardcover formats here.

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