“CD Review: Joe Finn/My Old Man/produced by Andrew Light
Finn’s Tristate Blues
That greeting might be pretty generic in most circles, but when you live in the affluent Jersey Shore communities that have been nicknamed “The Irish Riviera,” they take on a whole new meaning.
Since 1963, those two words are shouted enthusiastically at the start of each Joe Finn show. Finn, the beloved Irish American balladeer and local treasure in this popular summer vacation spot for the Irish in the tristate area, has just released a collection of his favorite songs called My Old Man.
The album, his first in over 20 years, came together when music and images came together. “I found this picture of my father, who died in 1955,” explains Finn. “He’s there holding his family, and I just thought it would make a great album cover. I have been doing Phil Coulter’s ‘My Old Man’ for sometime, and I just love that song. So, I decided to record it.”
So, what else has gotten this Jersey City native back in the studio after all these years? “Well, I started taking guitar lessons recently,” he says with a sheepish laugh as he points to the decades of pub gigs he’s played for decades.
“There’s a guy who has a studio where I take lessons, and we just decided to go for it.”
Like his live act, My Old Man has something in it for everyone. He gently strums melodies from the likes of Coulter, layering his well-worn voice atop the strumming to create a great keepsake of the bar hopping you did in the warmer months.
“Our Lady of Knock” and “Dublin in the Rare Old Times” will make the rice pudding go down a bit better for the older set, while the playful version of “Unicorn” is thrown in for the wee ones who think chicken fingers are fine dining.
“People have been on me for years to record that one,” he says with a laugh.
“The tears have all been shed now/we said our last goodbye/his soul’s been blessed he’s laid to rest/and now I feel alone,” he sings movingly on the title track.
Coulter’s “My Old Man” follows in the Irish tradition of telling vivid stories of ordinary life, a custom that Finn knows all too well, judging from his impeccable taste in songs.
“Kilkelley Ireland” is a melancholy track of letters from home set to music that announce the births and deaths to a family member stuck across the pond.
Finn is working hard as he keeps the storytelling tradition alive in pubs that have very little in the way of Celtic selections on their jukebox. “A lot of the Irish bars in this area are Irish in name only,” he laments.
“On the weekends, the younger crowd comes into these Irish bars and they want to hear rock music. There is still a great sense of being Irish down here. We have one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the state here in Belmar. But there was a time when you could find work seven nights a week playing music like this, and those days are over.”
While a typical Joe Finn show might have its share of sentimental nods to those who have gone before us, he also borrows more contemporary stories to liven things up.
“It’s just me and an acoustic guitar, so I really don’t do much in the way of Celtic rock,” he says. “But I think these Saw Doctors songs are marvelous, and the younger crowd seems to love them.”
On My Old Man, three of the 14 tracks belong to Tuam’s favorite sons — he does a great job on “Green And Red of Mayo,” “Same Old Town,” and “Claire Island.” While he has his ear pressed against the current crop of songs to draw in the younger crowd, there is something else at play behind his popularity with all ages.
“One of my favorite gigs all year is at St. Rose High School here in Belmar,” he explains. “I do a show in front of the entire assembly, and the energy is great! When these kids turn 21 and make their way into the bars, they remember the concerts and get into the music again.””