Review: Robert Finley  Recounts His Life As a ‘Sharecropper’s Son,’ with Help From Dan Auerbach

Robert Finley
Sharecropper’s Son
(Easy Eye Sound)
4 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Even if veteran soul/roots singer/songwriter Robert Finley’s previous collaboration with Easy Eye Sound owner and Black Keys’ frontman Dan Auerbach didn’t exactly do what its title Goin’ Platinum! promised, it was greeted with critical acclaim. Enough so to guarantee this terrific followup which solidifies everything Finley promised on two earlier projects and ups the production for a bigger, fatter and tougher sound.

Finley’s backstory is a textbook tale of overcoming adversity (he’s legally blind due to glaucoma), along with enough late in life coincidences that allowed him to release his music to a larger audience than he would find in Bernice, Louisiana , where he now lives, let alone his hometown of Winnsboro. You can check Wikipedia for the details or push play and let these 10 songs recount some of the tale through his words.  

As the disc’s title suggests, he sings of his life as a sharecropper’s son (Ain’t no time for education/too much corn in the field), as a “Country Child” (Every time I look at a cotton field, I think about pulling that sack) then a “Country Boy” (Trying to make friends but everyone wants to fight) in lyrics clearly drawn from personal experience. Interestingly the words to the last two tracks were improvised as they were being recorded. The music is a combination of down home swampy blues (“Better Than I Treat Myself”), rootsy Southern soul (“Starting to See,” “Souled Out on You”), gospel (the closing “All My Hope” where he sings I’ve been healed by the savior), and a mix of all three.

Auerbach ably supports Finley’s ragged but right vocals that shift effortlessly from guttural to falsetto. He is backed by top flight musicians, including horns punctuating some tracks, and Auerbach’s accomplished production skills. Far from being downbeat though, these songs are often filled with exuberance. Finley has not only survived a harsh upbringing but has ultimately found fame, if maybe not fortune, doing what he loves.

This set could have been recorded for the Stax or Hi labels in the ‘60s with its mix of Otis Redding gutbucket grit and Wilson Pickett’s searing R&B. It’s a perfect juxtaposition of earthy lyrics and frank storytelling with honest, unaffected roots music organically adding an exclamation point.

It has taken decades, but Finley’s dreams have finally come true and he wants others to know it can happen to them too. He says as much in the appropriately named “My Story” singing with a hard earned integrity, “That’s why I tell my story so you can start dreaming too.”   

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