The Tales People Tell
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
It shouldn’t bother anyone that Kelly Finnigan, frontman for the Bay Area-based Monophonics, has decided to throw his solo hat into the retro soul ring. It’s akin to another Democrat running for the party’s nomination for president in 2020. Sure, the field is a little crowded, but an additional point of view is welcome to make things more interesting.
With Monophonics on a sabbatical of sorts, Finnigan decided to craft an album often bathed in the smoother soul of Curtis Mayfield and 60’s groups like the Delfonics. He not only wrote all ten tracks but played most of the instruments (many overdubbed) and produced. Finnigan interestingly comes from a hip-hop background but there is no indication of that in the pure period R&B of these songs, tunes he created to emulate what he found when crate-digging for old music to infuse into his DJ sets.
Finnigan’s impressive voice falls between Marvin Gaye and Paul Janeway of St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Within the first five seconds of the opening track you’ll think you’re hearing an authentic soul platter from the ‘60s. The rhythm guitar, drums, female backing vocals, and xylophone (played by Finnigan) dovetail with heartfelt singing, transporting you to an era when you might experience these same sounds emerging from a tinny transistor radio. The singer is as impressive channeling the electrifying got-ta, got-ta, got-ta staccato style of Otis Redding on the clipped funk of “I Called You Back Baby” as he is shifting into falsetto for the widescreen orchestral Philly International-influenced ballad “Freedom.”
He enlists his famous father Mike Finnigan (who played keyboards behind Hendrix, Joe Cocker and others) to slather that special 60’s groove sauce for the bluesy, gospel “Can’t Let Him Down” as he testifies over horns and churchy backing female singers. The lyrics revolve around standard losing/trying to regain love concepts, but nothing seems trite or clichéd due to Finnigan’s pure intensity, the overall strength of the melodies and especially the creative, crafty arrangements. They include complex horn charts, call and response supporting vocals and tempos that sometimes radically change mid-tune.
It’s a dense yet enticing vibe and at ten tracks shoehorned into just over a half hour, over too soon. Even if you’re not a soul aficionado, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the sheer craft that Finnigan applies to each selection. And if you are a fan of the genre, this is another entry into a recently flourishing bumper crop of similar music making a delayed comeback in a big way. Bring it on.