- The Magazine
Late bloomers might take time to find their groove, but ones like Robert Finley are worth waiting for. Now 67, the Winnsboro, Louisiana native, who turned heads with his 2016 debut Age Don’t Mean a Thing and 2017’s critically acclaimed, tongue-in-cheek Goin’ Platinum, seems far from ready to slow down.
His latest collection of songs, Sharecropper’s Son (★★★★☆), is steeped in blues and soul tradition, bringing a whole lifetime of performance and love of southern musical tradition to bear on an album that brilliantly showcases all of Finley’s strengths.
Sharecropper’s Son is autobiographical in nature, inspired by the musician’s upbringing in the rural Jim Crow South. The farmlands and swamps of southern Louisiana are a constant presence in the album, with Finley acting as guide, bringing listeners from the country to the city and back again as he chased a nebulous dream of a better life. “Country Boy” nods to the back-breaking work he once did on crop shares, recalling at one point, “Can’t stand to drive by cotton fields/they still hurt my back.”
Like all the best blues singers, Finley exudes an easy, upbeat energy, but remains unsparingly unsentimental about his past. The title track plays like a laundry list of the hardships of crop share work, spending the whole day in corn and cotton fields in what felt like endless toil. “Starting to See” and “My Story” serve as detours back into the present, and present him as someone who knows very well where he came from, and is grateful to be where he is now. As he sings on his closing track, his own rendition of “All My Hope,” “Thank God my yesterdays are gone.” Although the lyrics are not his own, they had might as well be.
Finley’s third album once again finds him teaming up with producer and co-writer Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, who refers to Finley as “the greatest living soul singer.” Finley’s technical prowess alone makes that hard to dispute — the album’s opener and lead single “Souled Out on You” is one of a handful of tracks that flexes his vocal dexterity, going from deep bluesy growls to soaring, piercing highs in seconds. On “I Can Feel Your Pain,” his voice is velvet-smooth, far from the bark and growl of “Sharecropper’s Son.” Finley’s dynamic range and freewheeling style, along with the rawness of the instrumentals, lend the album the commanding energy of the best kind of live performance.
In a story Finley has told in many interviews, his deeply religious father disallowed any music that wasn’t gospel. Aside from the early exposure that gave him to church music, more importantly, it seems to have sparked a lifelong refusal to accept a closed door as an answer. That tenacity, which eventually turned him from an unknown quantity into a force to be reckoned with, is chronicled in Sharecropper’s Son, an album that is an origin story, a testament to the power of persistence, and an absolutely stellar blues record.
Sharecropper’s Son will be available for sale and streaming on Friday, May 21 on all popular services. For vinyl and merch visit www.found.ee/sharecroppersson.
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