Sometimes fate gets it right
Dan Auerbach is keeping old-school blues and country alive. He’s taken on a lot of overlooked legacy acts that most in his position would not touch, Doctor John and John Anderson being the two biggest examples. Robert Finley does not exactly fit into this category because he doesn’t possess a large-recorded output, with only two previous solo albums and a collab project with Auerbach, his biggest cheerleader, but he still counts thanks to decades of touring and street-performing with little recognition until his debut record in 2016. Finley’s revitalized career is one of the great feel-good stories of music this past decade, the rare example of meritocracy working out, and Sharecropper’s Son, his third overall, is another well-performed and balanced triumph.
This is the first time that Auerbach has produced for Finely, and he’s smart enough not to mess with a solid formula. The biggest change is a lot more emphasis placed on Finley himself, as he is placed a lot further forward in the mix. He is clearly not a classically trained singer, but he’s got enough passion for smashing through any technical insufficiencies and hooking listeners in with every song. There are moments where he peaks a little too high in the mix, but his falsetto and those piercing high notes on the end of “Souled Out On You” and “I Can Feel Your Pain” are nothing short of beautiful; a great recreation of classic soul.
The music does not present many deviations from Finley’s blend of blues, soul and country, yet Auerbach does a great job balancing the multitude of instruments and styles. The horns range from triumphant on “My Story” to low and menacing on “Souled Out On You,” while the guitars prove capable of quiet contemplation on “All My Hope,” tight funk on “Better Than I Treat Myself,” restless agitation on “Country Child” and classic bluesy solos on “Make Me Feel Alright.” Quivering organs, gentle piano and plucky basslines make their presence known and contribute to welcome texture. Sharecropper’s Son knows when to keep things steamy and simmering and when to boil over and deliver a gospel-inflected crescendo. The rousing final choruses of “Make Me Feel Alright,” “Starting To See” and the title track are things of sonic beauty. The slow burn of blues, the passion of soul and the texture of country come together wonderfully.
The only substantial issue comes with some of the content. Finley is a charismatic enough singer to save nearly anything, and, if overlooking the death of the author’s argument, his real-life story imbues otherwise mundane lyrics with real meaning. Let the man end the album with a straight-forward praise track with lines like “I’ve been healed by the savior” and “All my hope is in Jesus,” he’s had a hard life. That said, for a title track about his life on a brutal Louisiana farm, it’s a shame that it’s not a bigger topic. Said title track also muddies its message, as in-between details of having to skip school to harvest corn and praying for rain to assuage the heat and improve the bounty, he opens the hook by saying, “It was hard, but it was fair.” There’s nothing wrong with any of the relationship songs or broader language, as Finley brings plenty of empathy and world-weariness to lift it all up, but a little more specificity would’ve been nice.
These are ultimately nitpicking, as Sharecropper’s Son is an album that people should feel a civic duty to support and will have listeners wondering if that busker they saw on the street has great albums within them.