It's easy to get lost in the story of Robert Finley (detailed here, in this interview). There's his rise through America's Got Talent. There are his collaborations with Dan Auerbach, of the Black Keys. There's his loss of sight. And there's the fact that he's coming into his own in his 60s, an age when most people are appreciating less expensive public transportation rides and cheaper fast food coffee. The only effective thing that clears the narrative and biographical details out of your head is Finley's voice, which is pure soul. Sharecropper's Son will make you forget about everything, Finley-wise and beyond, and lose yourself in the songs.
Auerbach produced the album, which Finley based upon his childhood working with his family as sharecroppers in Winnsboro, Louisiana. The songs are personal, but the music is heavily informed by Auerbach's sensibility, with lots of heavy soul grooves and jagged guitar. Finley and Auerbach formally composed some of the tracks, while others resulted from Finley improvising vocals over a groove that caught his ear. The push and pull of both men is palpable, but the result is cohesive. Finley and Auerbach aren't fighting each other; they're willfully supporting one another.
"Makes Me Feel" rocks with a Black Keys energy, with the beat part country strum, part hand-clap, and part garage rock. In fact, it's easy to imagine the track on a Black Keys album. It's easy until Finley's vocals come in. His soul-packed howl gives the song a depth that makes it read as a 1960s soul classic, but also modern rock. It almost feels like Finley traveled through time, perhaps to make sure the future remembers the power of a great vocalist locked into their message.
"Country Boy," is almost the flip side of "Makes Me Feel," in that it begins with a long instrumental introduction, which is the result of a take that started while the band was still warming up, before Finley decided to jump in and create lyrics on the spot. The easy songwriting move would be to make a tune about a country boy have a country sway. Finley doesn't take that route. While the song is about a rural kid looking to return home, Finley's falsetto sends the message that there's now a fair amount of city coursing through his blood. A more accurate title would be "Urban Man."
Finley closes the album with "All My Hope," a gospel number by David Crowder and Ed Cash that sounds like a standard. It's a power move by Finley, ending such a personal journey with someone else's words, but it also shows Finely's vision for the arc of the album. He's not thinking in terms of singles and credits, so much as he's taking the listener on a journey through his childhood, using the music that sets the scene, no matter who wrote it.
It's also important to note Auerbach's status as a musical force of nature. His personal sense of sound sometimes dominates his productions. And then, there's also his overall fame, and the weight of his name on an album, no matter where it's located. Finley doesn't fight Auerbach and Auerbach doesn't defer to Finley. The two meet in the middle, making for an interesting collaboration where both sides seem to do what they want and things work out perfectly.