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Robert Finley with I&R
WINNSBORO, LA-Robert Finley’ssingingisasprimal as an alligator andsweeter than late-summer honey.And on the newSharecropper’s Son,he uses his marvelously expressive voice-whichcanglidefrom a gut-deep growl to a soothing purr to a transcendent falsetto all in a single phrase-to tell the story of his life in song. The album’s 10numbers, produced by Dan Auerbach for hisEasy Eye Sound label and available onJuly 10th,are blues, soul, gospel, and rock-infused chaptersfrom that life, weavingFinley’s ownstoriesofpicking cotton,countrychildhood, hardshipon citystreets, jail time, the pain and joy of love,the search for abetter life and the dream of salvation intoa spellbinding musical tale.”I try to open upmyheart and keep it real every time I sing,” explains Finley, who has livednearlyall his days in and around the farmlands and swampsbetween his birthplace,Bernice,and his currenthome, Winnsboro,in North-CentralLouisiana.”We made this album after we all went on tourtogether, and we were ready.I was ready to tell my story, and Dan and his guys knew me so well bythen that they knew it almost like I do, so they had my back all the way.”You can hear that inhowFinley and the bandnearlybreath together in songs like the gospel”Souled Out On You,” where the singer’s heart-piercing falsetto rings sharp and clear as an angel’shorn-underpinned byAuerbach’sfuzz-sweetenedbrown-butterguitar tone-and”Sharecropper’s
Son,”where the musicians mine a deep, funky groove as Finley sings about his raising “out in thered hot sun, where the work is never done.”Cut-by-cut, this follow-up toFinley’s2017’s Easy Eye Sound releaseGoing Platinum!bristleswith thevisceralenergy that can only be captured bycreatively chargedmusicians playing liveandspontaneouslyin the studio.In addition to Auerbach,whodips into a deep well of styles and soundsthroughout, the band includesMississippi hill country’s Kenny Brown and Eric Deaton, veterans ofJunior Kimbrough’s and R.L. Burnside’s bands, on guitar and bass, respectively. They’re joined byothernotables:keyboardist and songwriter Bobby Wood, who’s playedahistoric role in Memphisand Nashville music,drum legend Gene Chrisman and the equally legendaryLouisianaguitarist BillySanford.And the line-up’s completed by a full horn section,bassist Dave Roe, who has decades ofexperience with Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam, and John Mellencamp, anddrummer Sam Bacco,who has a long resumeinrock, country, pop, and bluegrass.Of course, the fire behindthe conflagrant performances onSharecropper’s Sonis Finley, who was sodeeply in the zone throughoutthathis lyrics and vocalapproachfor two ofthealbum’s songs, theautobiographical “Country Child” and his manifesto of love and struggle, “Country Boy,” wereimprovised as he and the band rolled tape.Such untrodden terrain is just another of the many settings where Finley feels comfortable.”Whenwe play live, I always leave room in the show forlyrics I make up on the spotwhile the band hits agroove,” he explains. “I guess the younger generationcalls it free-styling, but for me, it’s justspeaking from my mind straight from my soul. It needsto be something I lived, and then I can justtell people about it. One of the things I love about music is that, when I was a boy growing up in theSouth, nobody wanted to hear what I had to say or what I thought about anything. But when Istarted putting it in songs, people listened.”Auerbach’s relationship with Finley began as a listener. He was knocked out by Finley’s talent at firsthearing ofAge Don’tMean a Thing, the singer’s 2016 debut on Fat Possum Records.”His voice wasjust out of control, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to get him into the studio,'”Auerbach recounts.So thenext yearheinvited Finley to Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville to record a soundtrack forMurderBallads, a graphic novel. And while Auerbach knew Finley’s voice was big, he had no idea that hispersonality was just as large.”He walked in like he was straight outof the swamp,” Auerbach attests. “He hadleather pants,snakeskin boots, a big country &Western belt buckle, a leather cowboy hat and a three-quarter-length leather duster.” The final touch wasthe folding cane the legally blind Finley wore on his hip,ina holster.”Basically, he was dressed for national television,” Auerbach adds.The result of those sessions, which lasted only two afternoons, was Finley’s Easy Eye Sound debut,Going Platinum!That albumwas a jolting announcement of the arrival of a soon-to-be-legendaryvoice and talent,and liftedFinley’scareer into the spotlight. Now,Sharecropper’s Sonups the ante witha band that-through sharing the stage and studio with the elder performer-has crafted anarresting and dynamic ensemble soundtailored for his eclecticmusical interests.But perhaps moreimportant, this is the first album Finley’s recorded thatfullyshowcases hisautobiographicalsongwriting-allowing him to open his heart and mind to the world.Except for the closing spiritual”All My Hope,” all the songswere written by Finley, with co-writing by Auerbach, Wood, and well-respected country songwriter Pat McLaughlin on varioustracks.
“Robert is a truly great man,and writing with him-getting that kind of window to his life-was anamazing experience,” says Auerbach. “He’s legally blind and grew up working hardalongside hisfamily on a farm and singing in the church. He taught himself how to play guitar. He was ahelicopter repairman in Germany, in the Army, where he playedandtouredEuropewith anArmyband. He sang gospel and blues on the streets. He’s a highly skilled carpenter. He’s raised a familyand his kids love him. And while he was doing all of that, he developed one of the most unique,powerful and poetic styles I’veever heard. And all of that comes through onSharecropper’s Son.”Although Finleyhas long been a potent artist, for most of the past 20 years, after his blindness ledhim to semi-retirement, he’s mostly been playing littlejointswithin anhour’s driveofWinnsboro-like Riverside Coney Island,which specializes in boiled crawfish, and Enoch’s Irish Pub & Caf√©,both in Monroe, Louisiana.But his ascent has been swift since he was discoveredin 2015buskingon the streets of Helena, Arkansas.In addition to touring more than 10 countries in the wake of histwoearlier albums, Finley was also a contestant on the 2019 season of the TV competitionAmerica’sGot Talentreaching the semi-finalsandquickly became a fan favorite during his run.His daughterChristy Johnson, who appeared with Finley on the show, also provides some backing vocals forSharecropper’s Son.Reflectingonhis new album, Finley says, “I want people to understand that I can’t be kept in a box.I like todo all kinds of music-everything that means anything to me, from gospel to blues to soulto country to rock ‘n’ roll. And I like to standout andbedifferent,anddo things that reachyoungand older people. What I want everybody to know from my own experience is that you’renevertooyoung to dream, and that you’re never too old for your dream to come true.”
I&R is the creative playground for multi-instrumentalist Josh Cournoyer’s sonic exploration. Combining the rootsy songcraft of a six-year Nashville stint and the ambient existentialism of his New England upbringing, the loose collective has been in a state of constant evolution over the past four years. 2019’s debut full length, Bankrupt City, was called “one of the year’s best local records” by No Country for New Nashville. It featured a range of guest musicians, including Joe Pisapia (Guster, kd lang), Mike Poorman (Hot Rod Circuit), MorganEve Swain (The Devil Makes Three), Arun Bali (Craig Finn), Zac Clark, and was engineered by Logan Matheny (Chuck Berry). Returning to Nashville after a tour in summer of 2019, Cournoyer apprenticed under Pisapia as an assistant engineer at Middle Tree Studio. The beginning of 2020 saw I&R’s return to Providence, holing up in an empty Airbnb during the springtime lockdowns to write a follow-up. He further developed his production skills, shipping in an array of analog recording gear to begin work on his sophomore LP. Keep the Sun in Your Eyes was entirely written, performed, engineered, and mixed by Cournoyer over eight months in isolation, and set to release in 2022.