Since having his breakthrough moment of discovery while performing on America’s Got Talent at 67, Robert Finley has been dubbed “the greatest living soul singer”, had The Black Keys‘ Dan Auerbach produce his album Goin’ Platinum, toured the world, and become a critical darling – all past the age when most people would be retiring.
On Sharecropper’s Son, Finley’s latest album (and once again produced by Auerbach), the singer keeps his sound rooted in the vintage soul, classic R&B, rock & roll and blues he has become known for, while diving into more personal territory than ever before in his lyrics. Reflecting on relationships and his childhood growing up in the South, Finley mines painful subject matter while elevating the record’s tone with his penetrating vocals.
Opener and first single “Souled Out on You” delves into a breaking relationship (“you put me through hell, got me under your spell”), with Finley letting loose a vulnerable falsetto over a somber piano melody. But the song doesn’t rest in this territory, growing into a horn-accompanied soul ballad, with Finley tearing it up. Things get edgier on “Make Me Feel Alright”, as the hand claps and 70’s guitar line creates a Motown essence, with a classic rock call & response chorus that hearken back to songs like “Gimme Shelter”.
The most powerful soul tracks come from the life experience of the singers, and this remains true on “Sharecropper’s Son”, a blues stomper that has Finley looking back at his childhood; “Out in the red hot sun, all the work was never done”. Describing his difficult life the majority of us could never imagine, it makes Finley’s appreciation of where he is today all the more special. This joy is apparent on “My Story”, with Finley singing to his parents, imagining them looking down on him proudly, and aspiring for all parents to pass along the lessons life has taught him (“We gotta teach our children how to fly, so they can reach those stars in the sky”). The hopeful track melds elements of gospel with Spanish guitars and horns to create a unique arrangement that also elevates the track.
Something that feels a little rarer here is the track “I Can Feel Your Pain”, a thoughtful slow burner that finds reaching out with sincere empathy (“I don’t know your situation, but I can feel your pain”). There’s also some playful self-awareness on “Better Than I Treat Myself”, a shuffling feel-good retro rocker where Finley concedes he’s “just looking for somebody to treat me better than I treat myself”. The album smartly concludes with the simmering “All My Hope”, a pure gospel soul number that ends things on a warm, satisfying note.
One can’t help but appreciate the power of Robert Finley‘s voice and spirit, and he channels this power eloquently on this latest album. Sharecropper’s Son drops on May 21st, but you can listen to the pre-released tracks here.