Handsome Jack with Beechwood, Strange Majik
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.
The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band with Ransom Pier
The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
Two time BMA nominee’s The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band are the greatest front-porch blues band in the world. They are led by Reverend Peyton, who most consider to be the premier finger picker playing today. He has earned a reputation as both a singularly compelling performer and a persuasive evangelist for the rootsy, country blues styles that captured his imagination early in life and inspired him and his band to make pilgrimages to Clarksdale, Mississippi to study under such blues masters as T-Model Ford, Robert Belfour and David “Honeyboy” Edwards. Now The Big Damn Band is back with a new record Dance Songs For Hard Times that debuted at #1 on the Billboard and iTunes Blues Charts and was produced by Grammy winner Vance Powell (Jack White, Chris Stapleton). The record is critically acclaimed by Rolling Stone, Relix, Popmatters, Guitar World, American Songwriter, No Depression, Glide, Wide Open Country, Paste, American Blues Scene and many more!
“Telling stories that are relatable and don’t try too hard is important to me,” says Ransom Pier’s Hayley Harrington as she sits at the table of her childhood home on the North Shore of Long Island. “Most songs start from a single lyric or concept and work their way outwards from there.” The way Hayley tells it, her obsession with lyrics and storytelling was born in middle school as she immersed herself in the work of Bob Dylan, the Band, CSNY, and the Grateful Dead. She honed her craft by composing new verses to her favorite songs before, eventually, building a collection of her own original material and searching for a band.
Formed in 2015, Ransom Pier has maintained an emphasis on intimacy and simplicity over the course of their young career. “Hayley played Love’s a Bitch at the jam session where we first met, and I remember being very struck by the bare honesty of her playing,” says bassist William Carrigan. “To this day, if we don’t love the way an idea sounds with just her or just the two of us, that idea isn’t ready to be a song just yet.” The resulting output has included extensive touring in the eastern United States behind two EPs – If They Can’t Take a Joke (2015) and Feels Like Home to Me (2019) – a studio album – Beauty & Demise (2017) – and a live album – New York, NY 12/15/18 (2019). Love’s a Bitch, Turn Your Head, Just Waiting, and the rest of the band’s catalog offer listeners music that feels familiar on first listen and has won glowing comparisons to Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi, and Norah Jones.
Looking ahead, the now Brooklyn-based Americana duo aim to release two more EPs in 2019 and continue to build a regional and national following. “Our band does a great job of creating space and listening to one another,” says Hayley. “We’ve started approaching our studio sessions like live performances; so with minor exceptions, everything you hear on a Ransom Pier record was tracked live in a single take. That collective energy is everything.”
Hayley and William are generally joined by Evan Harris (Six Time Users, Robbing Johnny) on guitar and Max Maples (NOARU, Blak Emoji) on drums. To date, they have performed alongside the Whiskey Treaty Roadshow, the Other Favorites, Maelyn Jarmon, Copilot, Tom Walker, Mike & the Moonpies, Hannah Wicklund & the Stepping Stones, and Sarah Lee Guthrie. “Realistically, we’re just hitting our stride,” says William. “Each of us knows where we need to sit musically in order for the words and stories to shine through.” As Hayley’s voice soars over larger and increasingly delighted audiences, Ransom Pier’s future seems bright indeed.
The Bones of J.R. Jones
The Bones of J.R. Jones
Over the course of three full-length albums and two EPs, Jonathon Robert Linaberry — the songwriter, storyteller, visual artist, and one-man band behind The Bones of J.R. Jones — has woven his own tapestry of American roots music. It’s a classic sound for the modern world, influenced not only by blues, soul, and forward-thinking folk, but also by J.R.’s environment.
From the bustle of New York City, where he launched The Bones of J.R. Jones with 2012’s The Wildness, to the rustic solitude of his current home in the Catskills, J.R. has always looked to the world around him for inspiration. Few places have left him feeling as inspired as the American Southwest, an area whose desert panoramas and infinite horizons inspired the songs on his newest release, A Celebration. Written during trips to Tucson, Bisbee, Joshua Tree, and other desert destinations, the six-song EP is everything its title promises: a celebration of the thrill of getting lost in something new, whether it’s a landscape, a sound, a perspective, or all of the above.
The most compelling artists among us don’t replicate their past; instead, they evolve. A Celebration marks a new stage in The Bones of J.R. Jones’ own evolution, fusing the songwriter’s southern gothic sound — a sound rooted in acoustic instruments and J.R.’s woozy vocals — with drum machines, analog synths, vibraphone, and the rich, dark tones of a Magnatone amplifier. The songs were recorded quickly, in a series of first takes and instinctual performances, with J.R. playing nearly every instrument himself. The result is an organic record with an electric pulse — a collection of music that, like the region that inspired it, is familiar one minute and otherworldly the next.
“During our honeymoon, my wife and I disappeared into the desert and rented a house in the middle of an open, vast plain,” J.R. remembers. “No one was around us for miles, which is a feeling that’s hard to come by when you’re from the northeast. The songwriting on A Celebration is rooted in the vulnerability that comes from being out there, being exposed to this infinite emptiness, especially as the night comes in and the colors change, or as you watch a thunderstorm blowing in from 20 miles away. That kind of insignificance allows for a sort of freedom, and I wanted to embrace it.”
Slide guitar riffs and digital snare hits share the spotlight on the song’s atmospheric opener, “Stay Wild.” An ambient field recording of street life in an Arizona border town — captured by J.R. during his visit — fills “Keep it Low” with the moody sounds of barking dogs and singing locals. Harmonies are stacked three voices high on “Like an Old Lover,” a sparse track that’s equal parts old-time gospel ballad and new-world folksong. Tying everything together are vivid performances from J.R., who confidently blurs the boundaries between genre and generation. One minute, he’s a pre-war troubadour on the corner of some dusty southwestern street, strumming songs on his Dean resonator. The next, he’s a 21st century man with a drum machine, a Jupiter-8 synth, and a Kalamazoo guitar, creating a Nebraska-worthy collection of songs about the territories that moved him.
“The record’s essence was shaped by those beautiful desert nights and the roads that go on endlessly,” says J.R. “There’s so much space out there. When making A Celebration, I wanted to keep things stripped-back in terms of orchestration, arrangement, and the number of players on the record. It gave me a chance to really embrace that space.”
A Celebration‘s cover art — with its western color palette, desert iconography, and black-and-white photograph of wild animals — was handmade by J.R., who also created a series of accompanying prints. The goal, he says, is to embrace every aspect of the musical experience, creating an immersive world for his audience. In that sense, A Celebration does more than shine a light on the American southwest — it highlights J.R.’s ability to the bridge the gap between artistic disciplines.
Patrick Droney with Dylan Owen
Growing up in South Jersey, Droney’s career began with a bang, at age 13 he won a Robert Johnson New Generation Award as “Best Young Blues Guitarist” and began sharing stages with the likes of B.B. King, James Brown, The Roots, Taj Mahal, Macy Gray, and Elvis Costello. Droney became enamored of New York City at an early age, gigging frequently in esteemed Manhattan clubs and eventually attending the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU. He moved to LA and signed a publishing deal, and in 2018 relocated to Nashville to craft a self-titled EP, also making his TV debut on Late Night with Seth Meyers, performing at Barclays Center for Tidal X, and seeing his song “High Hope” featured on Grey’s Anatomy. After signing to Warner Records in 2019, he appeared at Bonnaroo and ACL, collaborated with Kygo, and recently reached the 95 million streams milestone. To craft his full-length debut, Droney pulled inspiration from his life experiences living in multiple places around the country with nods to both his musical heroes and current influences like The National and Bon Iver. With a résumé that reads like a dream, and after extensive touring and playing onstage with some of the all-time legends of blues, pop, rock, and soul, Droney’s STATE OF THE HEART released in May with a DELUXE version available now.
Out of the sleepy small towns of Orange County, NY, Dylan Owen has become a beacon of light for tens of thousands of ardent listeners who turn to his songs of introspection and wonder and struggle as a soundtrack to their lives, and a kind of navigation device. His vulnerable, poetic songwriting has generated comparisons in the press to alternative icons like Conor Oberst and Elliott Smith, but he also possesses disarming technical prowess as an emcee, has bottomless reservoirs of wit and wordplay, and has production palettes ranging from alternative rap to pop to folk—where neither DJ scratches nor a live violin or trumpet are out of place. Through breakout EPs There’s More To Life and Keep Your Friends Close and fan-facing efforts, he has fostered a deeply engrossed and active community that sell out his shows, tattoo his lyrics, buy merch from every drop (from which the proceeds benefit mental health causes), and compose thousands of heartfelt social media messages. What sustains Dylan is more than a universal writing ability… it is his ongoing quest to carve out meaning from his journey for himself and others, and to give it away so that it might empower his listeners, who prove to him time and time again that there is more to life.