TERRY GROSS, host:
Until now, Stephanie Finch has been known primarily for her backup work with the band the Mission Express, fronted by her husband, the guitarist and producer Chuck Prophet. But with her new album "Cry Tomorrow" and her own backup band called The Company Men, rock critic Ken Tucker says Finch has coming into her own.
(Soundbite of song, "Don't Back Out Now")
Ms. STEPHANIE FINCH (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) I never told you that I love you so, never looked(ph) out of a windowsill. A Valentine riff never sink her ship. Baby, they never will. Don't back out now. No. No. No. Don't back out now. No. No, no more.
KEN TUCKER: Stephanie Finch sings in a high, plaintive register that can sound both pleading and firm, sarcastic and wry. It's a voice of knowingness, from which innocence has been stripped away to reveal a performer who knows what she wants from herself and from other people. Many of Finch's songs - she wrote six of the 10 on this album - are guided as much by keyboard and guitar riffs as by her singing. This song uses a simple, insistent guitar hook that recalls The Velvet Underground or Jonathan Richman's Modern Lovers. It has the power of simplicity on "Tina Goodbye."
(Soundbite of song, "Tina Goodbye")
Ms. FINCH: (Singing) Looked down in my room, on the wall painted power blue. This guy was sad on the corner with cover me mad(ph). Tina, she really knows how to say goodbye. Tina, she's said roll while we take a cry. It's a statue. (unintelligible) So why? Why? Why? Tina, why'd you leave me behind?
TUCKER: Chuck Prophet produced this album with Finch. They happen to be married. Prophet, who used to be in the band Green on Red and is part of Finch's group The Company Men. He's produced first-rate albums for singer-songwriters various as Alejandro Escovedo and Kelly Willis.
On Finch's album "Cry Tomorrow," she covers a song that Prophet wrote for Escovedo called "Sensitive Boys." Escovedo sang the song plaintively, as though sensitivity was a burden. Finch takes the song and makes it a sharp-eyed, tough-minded critique of boys who fancy themselves to be sensitive.
(Soundbite of song, "Sensitive Boys")
Ms. FINCH: (Singing) Sensitive Boys in sensitive clothes. Sensitive words, wrapped up in sensitive poems. Big dreamy eyes, long French sleeves, shivering in the cold light of the New York City heat. Sensitive boys, here they come.
Unidentified Man: (Singing) Here they come. Watch them run.
TUCKER: Another superb song covered by Finch on this album is "Count the Days 1-2-3-4-5-6-7," written and recorded in the 1960s by the brother-and-sister soul act Charlie and Inez Foxx. Finch and Prophet rearrange the song, slowing it down and turning it into something else entirely. Where Charlie and Inez Foxx sang "Count the Days" as a proclamation of romantic freedom, Stephanie Finch turns the tune into more of a threat -a threat that says you'll be counting the days after I leave you. You will suffer when I'm gone. And it's all the more effectively devastating when sung in such a hauntingly matter-of-fact manner.
(Soundbite of song, "Count the Days 1-2-3-4-5-6-7")
Ms. FINCH: (Singing) If you don't believe I'm leaving, count the days I'm gone. If you don't believe I'm leaving, count the days I'm gone.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8.
Ms. FINCH: (Singing) I gave you my heart, you gave me hurt. I gave you sugar, you gave me dirt. You said that I wouldn't have the nerve to leave, and if I did, I'd be the one to grieve. Well, if you don't believe I'm leaving, count the days I'm gone.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) 1-2-3-4-5-6-7.
Ms. FINCH: (Singing) If you don't believe I'm leaving, count the days I'm gone.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) 1-2-3-4-5-6-7.
TUCKER: There's a nice avoidance of singer-songwriter confessionalism throughout "Cry Tomorrow." And the album title is apt: Stephanie Finch may cry tomorrow, but right now, she's going to lay it all out for you, the good and the bad stuff that precedes any crying. And besides, who says she's the one who's going to be the one in tears when she gets finished with you?
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "Cry Tomorrow" from Stephanie Finch and The Company Men. You can hear several tracks from the album on our website, freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of our show.
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