Finnegan, What Happened To Jacqueline?

Finnegan, What Happened To Jacqueline?

Sometimes, the time and care you put into something shows right through its skin. And when that happens, it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. When I put on Finnegan’s five-years-in-the-making debut album, What Happened To Jacqueline?, that’s exactly how it feels, at least to me — I find myself gaping in dumbstruck awe as the music unfolds, amazed at the intricate yet relentlessly addictive melodies and thoughtful lyrics.

Opening track “B-Team Squad Leader” is partly to blame, it’s true; with its near-martial beat and increasingly desperate, bitterly defiant vocals, I’m swept up each and every time, sucked along with the song. I swear to God, I could listen to this song a hundred times in a row. I’m not even kidding — it’s that sublime and gorgeous and flat-out ferocious.

The centerpiece of the track is the interplay between singers Taylor Lee (who wrote the bulk of the album, along with bassist/guitarist brother Darin Lee) and Sara Van Buskirk, whose voices meld together utterly perfectly, like two puzzle pieces that just aren’t meant to fit any other way. When the band hits the break, and those strings come in and dance over the soaring, rough-edged vocals, jangly guitars, and lockstep drums, my heart skips a beat.

A few tracks in, “Set2Song” hits a similar high, with nicely scratched-up vocals, a drum machine beat, and guitars right there in your ears like they’re being played on either side of your head. It’s a plaintive, cautionary song — complete with a great harmonica line — but still strikes a hopeful, reassuring note, promising that there’s still a bed waiting back at home.

It’s difficult at points to listen to Finnegan without hearing Taylor and Darin Lee’s “other band,” The Literary Great, particularly on the rootsy, countrified “Interpreting Clouds,” the pacing of which reminds of the Lee brothers’ work with the Greats. It’s also a nice shift upwards into a more flat-out rock song, with guitars that wouldn’t have sounded out-of-place on Son Volt’s Trace.

There’s a fair amount of a roots/Americana influence throughout Jacqueline, actually, although it’s never so much that it’s overwhelming; instead, it’s just there, a piece of the band’s musical DNA, occasionally stepping to the fore on tracks like the downhome folk stomp of “Sonuva Gun” or the travelling, Springsteenian folk-blues of “Square Zero.”

The latter track, for its part, starts out gentle and warm before getting rougher and more desperate, especially when Van Buskirk cuts loose with her awesome, Melissa Etheridge-esque howl. I knew she could sing from hearing her 2010 solo effort, The Place Where You Are, but here she roars as often as she croons, declaring “It’s not that I can’t / It’s just that I won’t.” She plays it more delicate on “Silverscreen & Cigarettes,” with its subtle strings and almost Tori Amos-ish vibe, and soft and sweet on the hushed “Little Red Bud Tree,” and whichever way she turns, it works.

What Happened To Jacqueline? loses a bit of its drive after the halfway mark, unfortunately, with “Southern Belle” and the title track (not that either are bad, by any means, but they don’t quite measure up to the rest), but it picks back up with the tentative, melancholy “Going To Bed With A Cold Woman (And Waking Up Hot).” The song’s all sweetness and regret, the sound of a relationship fraying at the edges, slowly shifting to a defiant, fearless embrace of love as it nears the end.

By the time the album’s done, I’m convinced down to my core that everybody in the universe (me included) seriously slept on one of the best albums of 2011, hands down. Sit up and pay attention; it’s not too late.

[Finnegan is playing 1/13/12 at Fitzgerald’s, along with The Literary Greats, Quiet Company, & Poor Pilate, and 1/28/12 at the Houston Press Artopia at Winter Street Studios (2101 Winter St.), along with Folk Family Revival, Young Mammals, & DJ Kyle Berg.]
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Thursday, January 12th, 2012. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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3 Responses to “Finnegan, What Happened To Jacqueline?

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 1: Literary Greats + Finnegan + Quiet Company + Balaclavas + Jealous Creatures + Wheel Workers + More on January 13th, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    […] and you can check out reviews of the Finnegan & Quiet Company albums here and here, respectively. Both are freaking […]

  2. Hai Ferrer on March 18th, 2012 at 2:30 am

    You make several valid points, needless to say, but I wouldn’t say I’m one-hundred percent with you. Nonetheless, I truly do appreciate your thought processes and appreciate the fact that other folks have very much the same worries. Many thanks.

  3. SPACE CITY ROCK » Yr. Weekend, Pt. 1: Finnegan + Cavern Hymnal + Joe Pug + Sera Cahoone + Phantom Lakes + Punk & Metal Fest + The Rads + More on November 22nd, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    […] whole roots-folk thing and more straight-up indie-rock, and on their one album so far, 2012′s What Happened To Jacqueline?, they do it absolutely flawlessly. It doesn’t hurt, mind you, that Taylor Lee and Sara Van […]

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