Rediscovered love: Finnie finds her voice again at Sierra Madre’s Café 322
By John Sollenberger
You sometimes hear about a singer “finding” his or her voice; that is, getting in
touch with the sound that naturally fits their particular style or taste. Singer Lisa Finnie took a somewhat longer path to
finding her muse, and there was a time when it looked like it wouldn’t happen. But perseverance and a love of music
won out over adversity, resulting in what you’ll see Saturday night at Sierra Madre’s Café 322, where Finnie and
special guests will perform.
The Pasadena native was classically trained and as a teen followed her dream of becoming an
opera singer. Those hopes seemed dashed when, as a high school junior, doctors found nodules on her vocal cords and she was
told that her singing career was over.
But after various music-store jobs through which she discovered new influences and encouragement
from performers including James Intveld and Ronnie Mack, whom she met while deejaying at a Pasadena club, Finnie picked up
a microphone and found her voice again. The result is a sound straddling country, rock, jazz and blues. Music starts at 8 p.m. Saturday at Café 322, 322 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre. Call (626) 836-5414.
Lisa Finnie - Lisa Finnie
A review written for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange by Frank Gutch Jr.
If someone told
me that this was recorded in the fifties or early sixties, I would not have been surprised. From the deep reverb on the guitars
to the sparse use of banjo for effect, the aura is there. While listening to this, I had to look around at times to make sure
I wasn't back in the old hometown listening on my parents old console—all that was needed was the hiss of the needle
in the groove.
Don't take this
the wrong way. The music isn't dated, necessarily, but I can point it to where it belongs. For instance, Love Is As Love
Does is slow ballad practically out of a fifties movie, a lead-in song over the credits, fading out as the scene and
its sounds fade in. The single deadened plucked notes on the banjo are eerie in their soundtrack effect. Country & Western
isn't really Country & Western when Finnie sings it, but if you remember correctly, it wasn't then either. Not all the
time. Singers like Rosemary Clooney, Dinah Shore and Doris Day sang Country & Western as did a few hundred other vocalists.
It just didn't sound Country & Western, that's all. What's the Matter With Me? doesn't sound Country & Western,
either, but it doesn't sound like it wouldn't have sounded if it had been recorded in the fifties. Are you getting any of
this? Is this mike on? How about a little fifties' pop lounge music? Slow Burn. A rock ballad with pedal steel (more
like Hawaiian pedal steel) and pop melody? Lover's Hum. Semi-surf pop? Ball and Chain. Only the Americana-ish
So Much Better steps out of the past, a slow and light folk ballad.
Maybe you have
to have grown up in the fifties to understand what was done here, intentionally or not. Lisa Finnie wrote twelve really good
songs, wrapped them in fifties studio arrangements (I mean, I haven't heard music recorded quite like this in years and years)
and handed it to us a gift. It isn't about the songs, though they are certainly good. It isn't about the performance, though
Finnie has a smooth and pleasing voice and the players are outstanding. It is about the sound. Finnie and crew nailed it,
top to bottom, yet it doesn't sound dated. It just sounds fifties. I know. It's confusing.
It is not confusing
to listen to, though. Finnie and friends have a way of washing over you without you even realizing it. Like I said. It's smooooth.
Perfect for deck parties and drinking after hours. This is good stuff. I ought to know. I remember the fifties. Good times.
forgot. If you like cool, this CD is black like a record and has (fake) grooves and a label, just like the big records with
the little holes do. It looks a bit like the old Imperial labels from the (ahem) fifties. When I first pulled it out, I thought
there had been a mistake, that they had sent some kind of promo item which wouldn't play. I'd never seen a CD like this. But
when I put it in the player, it played. It played very well, indeed, thank you. It just looks cool, too.
January 23, 2009
Finnie - Lisa Finnie - CD (Chirp
Records) The CD starts off wonderfully with the sultry folk-blues tune "C'est La Vie En Rose", which is quickly followed
up by two classic country sounding songs "Lover's Hum" and "Lynda Says". This is quickly followed [by] the great guitar-lounge
song "Ball and Chain" which sounds like it belongs on a Quentin Tarantino movie soundtrack. Lisa then downshifts for the quiet
folk tune "Love is as Love Does" complete with quiet banjo and subtle male vocals, both which fit and support the song perfectly.
I can go on and on. While each song has an Americana base, Lisa manages to inject each song with different
song elements that make each stand out on its own with unique flavor. The only thing I don't like is the CD cover, which as
I have said many times, is an important component to an audio release. Still, awesome release. -- Mite Mutant (2009)
L.A. JAZZ SCENE
LISA FINNIE and the John McDuffie
The pleasant weather was made to order for the 44th
Annual Sierra Madre Art Fair. At the outskirts of the many displays of arts and crafts was the outdoor performance stage,
site of live music presented during the two day Fair. During the late afternoon, it became a bit warm to be singing in the
sun, but vocalist Lisa Finnie took it in stride with the help of a wide-brimmed hat and her relaxed manner. Her tunes varied
from the beautiful Cole Porter classic, "Night And Day," to a torchy "Cry Me A River," then to a spirited, swinging "Paper
Moon." Finnie’s style, with a slight bluesy intonation, worked well across the board on her selection of powerful songs.
But it was not an easy road for her
to get to this point. A classically trained singer in her teens with the goal of singing light opera, she was devastated when
a health condition lead to a medical prognosis ending her dreams. After years of not singing, two classic country music
artists encouraged Finnie to ignore the vocal problems and try singing again, even giving her some opportunities to perform.
Determined, she progressed quickly to find her new style and new voice that led to once again singing on stage.
With increasing successes, she has
moved to again sing these great tunes from the American songbook. A gentle young woman, she has steel in her, with new appreciation
and heart to solidly present vocals with something to say about emotion and life, and also the humor to sing an old child’s
song, "Ladybug," in a jazz mode. Personable and determined as a talented entertainer, she has what it takes to keep moving
Accompaniment was by the John McDuffie
Trio, which became a quartet for this gig only with the fortunate addition of guitarist Harry Orlove. Nice arrangements were
by bandleader McDuffie, along with his innovative guitar work. The guitar interplay with Orlove was excellent as they played
off each other on instrumentals, enhancing the tunes. Due to a hand injury, Orlove temporarily uses a thumb pick on his index
finger to pick strings with his right hand open. The unusual technique was a little distracting to watch at first, but didn’t
interfere with his fine guitar work, as on his featured playing of "Moon Glow." He was an asset to an already fine trio. Others
in the band were bassist Hank Van Sickle and James Cruce on drums.
Instrumentals were interspersed with
vocals during the three sets for a balanced presentation and pacing mix, keeping things fresh and moving. Other tunes
included, "You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To," "Let Me Go Home," "Besame Mucho," "Careless Love," "I’m Waiting
For My Man," and the theme song from the award winning television series, "Monk."
The Sierra Madre Art Fair is an annual
event, always with music, held at that City’s Memorial Park, 232 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard.
>> Hot Dates
Amy Farris/Lisa Finnie
Friday, August 27, 2004
This is a great little double bill hidden away in the foothills of Sierra Madre, but well worth the drive from wherever
you’re at. I’ve been singing the praises of Farris for quite a while now, at least since the April release of
Anyway, her debut solo CD on Yep Roc, one of my favorite CDs of the year so far. A fiddler in addition to being a splendid
singer/songwriter, Austin native Farris has recently been on the road opening for Dave Alvin, and has even become a quasi-Guilty
Man. Finnie, on the other hand, is quickly become a favorite in the local folk/Americana circle, with a deep, dark and rich
voice that she uses to tackle a variety of material, from ELO to Gershwin to Waits and beyond. She’s unpredictable,
and I, along with a large group friends and musicians, have been pushing her to get in the studio. Hopefully, she’ll
get tired of us bugging and follow our advice. Anyway, the show is free (there will be a tip jar) and if you haven’t
been to this little gem of a coffeehouse, come find out why it is one of the best kept secrets on the east end of town. (Paul
PASADENA WEEKLY: Greater Pasadena's Alternative News and
A Torchy Twist
Lisa Finnie and the Attention Hogs play Bean Town Saturday
Music-store jobs carry a certain
geek cachet enviable for their perks, if not their paychecks. For some they also provide
a life-changing education. Just ask Lisa Finnie.
Raised in Pasadena, Finnie
was a classically trained singer actively pursuing dreams of singing light opera until
nodules were discovered on her vocal cords when she was in 11th grade at Pasadena High.
After being informed by doctors, "Your singing career is over; you should think about
something else" - a huge blow - she didn't sing for several years.
After high school she spent
six years working first for MusicPlus, then for Moby Disc Records on Colorado Boulevard.
There, her childhood diet of Elvis, Mozart and musical comedy scores gave way to more
"That's really where my musical
education began," she recalls. "Once I started getting into people like Bob Dylan and Tom
Waits and Billie Holiday - people who had these wonderfully distinctive voices, but maybe
not considered classically beautiful - I think those people gave me real
hope. Songwriters were a big, big influence."
Discovery of such idiosyncratic
artists - coupled with confidence-boosting DJ gigs at One West on Fair Oaks, where she
met future mentors James Intveld and Ronnie Mack - eventually encouraged her to pick up
a microphone again.
She took a long, scenic route
back to the stage (including a sojourn at NYU in Manhattan, where she earned her bachelor
of arts degree in dramatic literature and history of the theater), but about a year and
a half ago she started performing again, with warm encouragement from Intveld, Mack,
Cody Bryant (who regularly books her at Viva Cantina), Rick Shea and Patty Booker, for
whom she frequently opens.
"Pop standards with a torchy
twist" is probably the easiest way to describe Finnie's tasteful, refreshingly musical
setlists. Backed by shifting lineups of veteran musicians, she sandwiches aptly titled
originals like "Slowburn" and "jr. blues" between classy covers of Shea,
Holiday, Randy Newman, Tom Waits, Willie Nelson, Fats Domino and Ben Vaughn. There's a
jazzy spark to her performances but she's closer to Dinah Washington or Toni Price than,
say, Diana Krall. She's learned how to work around her earlier "broken voice" problems
but finding duet partners for her significantly lowered voice remains challenging.
"If I'd ever been lucky enough
to meet Johnny Cash," she laughs, "he would have been someone I could have dueted with."
Lisa Finnie & the Attention
Hogs play Bean Town, 45 N. Baldwin Ave., Sierra Madre, from 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday. No cover.
For more information, call (626) 355-1596. Finnie's mailing list is firstname.lastname@example.org
PASADENA STAR-NEWS (untruncated version)
Finnie Finds Her Voice Once Again
By Paul Andersen
When Lisa Finnie
was growing up, she admits that she did the whole East Pasadena suburban
thing. "You know," she says, "AYSO, softball, the whole Hastings Ranch scene. My first job was at KFC in Sierra Madre, which
is still there; later, I worked at both Music Plus and Moby Disc, which aren't there anymore. And I went to PCC, too."
"I can remember OldTown when there wasn't
a Gap there, when the trains used to rumble through the back alley. It was very literary then, but those days are long gone.
I miss driving to the middle of SuicideBridge
and faking a breakdown, just so we could sit there and stare at the stars, drinking champagne, or do scavenger hunts in the
Arroyo. I miss the dark coffee bars by the train tracks."
also remember doing a lot of singing while she was growing up, even doing some jingle and pilot recording sessions. "We had
a family friend who was a piano player, and he got me into the studio when I was seven or eight, somewhere around there,"
she remembers. "I began singing in the third grade, and by the time I got to junior high, a singer was what I wanted to be."
will appear tomorrow night at BeanTown
in Sierra Madre, seemed pretty well destined to be able to pursue that goal. By the time she reached PasadenaHigh School, her interests had turned to the classics, and in the choirs there
she learned the Latin Masses and Mozart's "Requiem," along with a steady diet of musical comedies.
teacher there was a member of the Roger Wagner Chorale, and she was quite serious about what she did," Finnie says. "It rubbed
off on me."
Then, in the
11th grade, while singing in a rehearsal, Finnie suddenly developed a severely hoarse voice. "My parents took me
to this fancy Beverly Hills laryncologist, who found that I had nodules on my
vocal chords. At the time, the surgical procedure to clean them out was dangerous, because they weren't sure how you would
come out of it...there was no guarantee you would be better, and a lot of times, with the scar tissue, it could end up worse.
Of course, he said they could also just go away eventually, especially if I stayed mute for at least six months. But that
is hard to do at 15. So we ended up doing nothing, even though it left me with this handicapped voice. It was a big blow,
and I didn't do anymore singing for quite awhile, other than some background singing for a little while with this rock band."
in music stores for a while, and began gaining an appreciation for other styles of music past the classical realm. Then, one
night in Pasadena, while working as a DJ between sets, playing rockabilly records, she met Ronnie Mack, a local singer who
a year earlier had begun hosting the Barndance, which was on its way to becoming one of the best-known and longest-running
live showcases for the Southern California folk/country/roots rock community.
"He told me
I should come check it out, which I did," she says. "But I wasn't ready to sit in yet, at least not there. Instead, Ronnie
was working with pianist Fats Mizzell at the Tam O'Shanter Inn in Atwater, playing
standards, country and roots rock tunes three nights a week. I did go down there and began trying out this new voice. That's
how I began singing again, only this time I was doing pop music. I found that, though I had long since given up trying to
do classical, I could do this, because it was more about feeling than virtuosity and technique. Here I was, with this new,
deep voice that didn't have a whole lot of range...it sure wasn't the one I grew up with. But I focused my singing on communicating
an emotion through song."
it to ice skating. "There is a certain gallery of movements you have to do, which is similar to the agility of your voice
in classical music. But in popular music, it is wide open, which is why wonderful people like Tom Waits can pursue their art.
That is why now, when I sing, I don't stick to any single genre. I just feature my favorite songwriters and song types that
are so essential. And coming back to this, making a later start than most people, it's really only been a year-and-a-half
now that I've been doing the serious gigging. I think I have a greater appreciation for it."
it was time for a change, so she applied to NYU as a transfer student and got accepted. So she headed east for several years,
living in Greenwich Village while earning a degree in dramatic literature and theater history. "It
was really an English degree, only we read plays instead of novels," she explains. "I had become obsessed with moving to New
York, and it was a real pivotal time of growth for me. But I still have the student loan bills every
month to remind me of my impulsiveness. It is difficult to live there without money."
sighs. "It was a magical place, though. I was lonely but thrilled at the same time, and I had all sorts of life experiences
there, weird things like seeing my first dead body. Now when I watch "Law and Order" reruns, I can get that (New
York) vibe again."
she eventually came home, Finnie began sitting in at Barndances, and she began meeting an ever-widening circle of musicians
who have backed her in various groupings. "When I was thinking about a band name, I couldn't decide so I asked my friends
for suggestions," she laughs. "I got flooded with names that were great, and I really couldn't choose one, so now I'm just
going down the list, though certain combinations have (somewhat) constant names, because you've got to give the proprietors
a break. But it has got to be about the fun!"
fun is what you will get when you see and hear Finnie and her various groups perform. She is extremely eclectic with her set
lists, and nearly everything is game, from Dylan and Cash to the Beach Boys and ELO. She has also begun writing some wry,
witty original tunes, though giving birth to them has been a slow, painful process.
"I've got five
I'm comfortable with, and a sixth is on its way," she laughs. "I am such a fan of songwriters that it has been difficult to
be comfortable writing myself, because I've got such high standards, but I'm starting to relax. I used to throw them in the
trash, but now I'm not so paralyzed by self-doubt.
she adds, "I think I've got enough now to go into the studio with, along with some covers. I'm also beginning to think about
how they'll sound on record. I'm starting to wrap my mind around the idea, and hopefully, I'll have something by the end of
is proof once again that it is never too late to bloom, even if the flower is a lot different than it used to be.