The first thing that hooked me about Tony Fink's new
CD, Mayowulf, was the cover. It shows a contrived portrait bust
of Fink, slyly hinting at the grandeur of Augustus, or Louis XIV,
some 19th century beer baron or 21st century rap star. We notice
the downcast eyes under wooly eyebrows, a Mona Lisa smile gone smirky,
the cropped wig hinting at horns and beard reduced to a naughty
soul patch. A frilly unbuttoned tuxedo shirt replaces the lace fall
at the throat. Suddenly we're looking at the apotheosis of a cake
decorator's art. And whoever tossed the ragged bouquets littering
the base must have had a thing for talent and a skeptical eye. Probably
some music/art critic.
The first bonus on the CD is Fink's voice, smoothly tough in the
way of aluminum, or pewter. It's flexible, on pitch, evenly produced
with only a few lapses in concentration. With a distinct DNA and wide
range of effects, it almost always avoids affectations and mannerisms,
except for a few "wow wow" vowels in "Halloween"
and "The Rest You Want" (And yes, that last is crazy!).
His voice is the best instrument on the CD.
In keeping with the retro direction of the droll cover, most of the
instruments Fink uses were invented before electricity. They form
a "What's What" of accousticana; guitar, F-horn, harmonica,
melodica, drums, shaker, cymbal, a didgeridoo, a 1970 Volvo, and a
bowed saw for godssake! And in a humorist's nod to the moderns, a
Theremin along with the ARP 2600 synthesizer, electric guitar etc.
The resulting variety is clever and witty and the group plays with
confidence and imagination.
The whole suffers just the slightest from indie recording values.
Maybe even just a little more editing, a little more reverb and compression
to push that back, pull this up, squeeze one thing, stretch another?
The quality of the voice and the lyrics already separate this CD from
the ubiquitous Bang'n'Grunt bands and deserves a bit more.
Speaking of lyrics, Fink uses words like a poet, convinced a song
has something to talk about beyond loopy repetitions and goes-without-saying
commentary. There's no resisting lines like "I am no stranger
than pain"(Becoming Petrified), "Sometime you don't want
the sky to turn blue" and "too much too soon is hard to
do"(Strung-Over Hung-Out), "Seventy percent of Cassandra
is rain"(Seventy Percent of Cassandra), "There's a video
about the making of the video"(Hollywood If I Could) and "She
wiped her ass with his heart" (Skankz Need Jesus).
And while a few of Fink's frequent rhymes can "run madly off
in all directions", there's a lot of reward in chunks of sound
like the one that includes "Faygo and Stoli", "loathing",
"strolling", "cajolin'" How about "didgeridooed"
as a verb? Blimey!
Secure in the singer-songwriter tradition, Fink nods to his polystylistic
influences; indie-emo, neo-punk, rap, retro 70's and 80's, bluegrass,
Southern rock etc. etc. etc. It's cool to pick out the allusions,
imitations, slap-and-kiss parodies Fink sometimes favors, using and
abusing his models for his own pleasure, and ours.
This is a perfect fit for the slant he gives to the basic themes everyone's
doing today. His takes on in-love out-of-love, social comment, angsty
women and their angstier men, are slightly perverse, never shallow
or boring. His best songs tell a story (Life Is Like That), outline
a character (Seventy Percent of Cassandra) or combine these (Three
Chords and Vermouth).
I look forward to Fink's next album. Maybe he'll fight the urge to
show it all. Maybe he'll take on what most interests him. Maybe he'll
deal head-on with what's behind the irony and laughter. Whatever,
like this one, it will offer an alternative to the current market
pressure for de-humanized machinery music that overlooks wider tastes
To listen to a few sample tracks from Fink's CD, go to thedetroiter.com
look for him in rotation on the D-Rox station.
To purchase Tony Fink's Mayowulf go to his website here.
Michael Dunwoody is a former high school English curricular chairman
and adjunct professor of creative writing at the University of Windsor
for ten years. He won an Author's Award for short fiction in 1987and
has been published in various small literary magazines in Canada and
the U.S. Currently Michael is working on a suite of poems about Detroit.
To see a recent theatre review by Dunwoody,