Roadhouse album review: Robert Finley pours his soul into “Sharecropper’s Son”

For someone who didn’t record an album until he was 63 in 2016 (Appropriately, “Age Don’t Mean A Thing”), soul and blues man Robert Finley is doing just fine, thank you.

You can tell just how well by lending an ear to his excellent third and most recent album, the autobiographical “Sharecropper’s Son” (Easy Eye Sound May 21), and absorbing his strong, tough vocal sensibilities — plus his spine-tingling falsetto.

This album is the second collaboration between Finley and Dan Auerbach, one-half of the Black Keys (who just released “Delta Kream” — Roadhouse review here) Their first was “Goin’ Platinum!,” released on Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound in 2017.

That prompted Auerbach’s observation: “He’s the greatest living soul singer as far as I’m concerned.”

Auerbach co-wrote and produced “Sharecropper’s Son,” along with Bobby Wood, and Pat McLaughlin, but its power comes from Finley’s passionate delivery.

From the opening bars of the gritty “Souled Out On You” to the closing gospel strains of “All My Hope,” Finley wraps his soul around music that gives you a mini-version of his life. “Country Child” and “Sharecropper’s Son” are especially compelling narratives. I don’t mean to overlook any of the cuts — they are all finely crafted, whip-smart blues and soul spun from a life full of both.

And then there’s the music. Finley’s backers lay down a soulful soundtrack that matches his vocals in their intensity. Auerbach lends his scorching guitar to “Souled Out On You,” with more help from Mississippi Hill Country slidemaster Kenny Brown, well-known for his teaming with R. L. Burnside. The band also includes Russ Pahl, Billy Sanford, and Gene Chrisman, plus horns, plus Nick Movshon of the Dap-Kings, blues artist Eric Deaton, and former Johnny Cash bandmate Dave Roe.

But I’m pretty sure that if Finley did this acapella, it would still be a great album.

And just so you know, Finley’s blues autobiography began with a thrift store guitar when he was 11, an Army tour, where he served as a band guitarist, returned to his native Louisiana busked as a street performer, sang in a gospel group, and worked as a carpenter.

Eventually, he was forced to retire from carpentry after becoming legally blind, and turned back to music. In 2015, Music Maker Relief Foundation, which supports aging blues musicians, discovered Finley busking in Arkansasand helped get him back on the road to music.

In 2019, Finley became a contestant for the fourteenth season of America’s Got Talent. AGT He reached the live shows but was eliminated in the semi-finals.

Here’s one of Finley’s appearances on America’s Got Talent in 2019:

Here’s “Souled Out On You”:

Track list:

1. Souled Out on You
2. Make Me Feel Alright
3. Country Child
4. Sharecropper’s Son
5. My Story
6. Starting to See
7. I Can Feel Your Pain
8. Better Than I Treat Myself
9. Country Boy
10. All My Hope

If these ten songs somehow leave you unsatisfied, check out his two previous outings, “Age Don’t Mean A Thing” and “Goin’ Platinum!” (I found all three of Finley’s albums streaming on Amazon Music.)

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