Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound has an impressive catalog and roster of albums and artists. While it’s easy to trace how each intersects or diverges from Auerbach’s own musical and artistic approaches, only a handful of artists who’ve had releases with the label truly supersede the star power of their Grammy Award-winning producer, co-writer, and collaborator. Yola utilized Auerbach and Easy Eye as her gravitational assist to slingshot herself up into roots music’s – and now, Hollywood’s – stratosphere; Nat Myers‘ brand of down-to-earth, hardscrabble blues feels equally right at home and as a superlative outlier among his labelmates; and, perhaps chief among the top of Easy Eye’s “class” of music-makers is another bluesman, Robert Finley. His brand new release, Black Bayou, is his third with the label – and it finds him continuing to stake out his musical territory, confident in the well-deserved notoriety he’s now gained at this late point in his career. (Finley, as of this writing, is 69 years young.)
Black Bayou is blues unencumbered by the perennial rhetoric and discourse that engulfs this genre and tradition. What role do the blues have to play in a post-modern society? Can acoustic, old-fashioned, and/or vernacular blues music be modern, forward-looking, and responsive? Is blues dying, or is our fear of its decline or demise yet another facet of this form? Can the blues be something more than “time capsule” music? Black Bayou, with Finley’s trademark joy and wizened smile, encourages its listeners to also laugh in the face of these often pseudo-academic, fedora-wearing musical intellectuals. This is music for the present; this is music that’s visceral, propulsive, and – well, fun.
You can tell that Finley and his cohort had fun making it, too. Auerbach appears on Black Bayou, as does drummer Patrick Carney, his partner from their preeminent rock duo, the Black Keys. Eric Deaton (bass), Kenny Brown (guitar), Jeffrey Clemens (also on drums), and vocalists Christy Johnson and LaQuindrelyn McMahon – Finley’s daughter and granddaughter, respectively – round out the project’s ensemble. It’s a cohesive group, serving Finley’s musical mission perfectly and, when appropriate, getting the hell out of his way. It’s part of why Finley does rise above the Easy Eye Sound prestige and pomp, cutting through crisply, with a direct and honest point of view.
This music isn’t just grounded in the present, it’s also rooted in Finley’s home turf of Northern Louisiana, perhaps explaining why he can both be totally unconcerned with “authenticity” while also being a fountain of raw, direct sincerity. Here is a musician and singer who makes music for all of the right reasons, continuing to do it because it’s what he does. His expertise is kind and open, inviting even the casual or uninitiated listeners to engage with his music on the same level as the bespectacled blues autodidact.
Roberty Finley and Black Bayou are disarming, prescient reminders that whatever forms roots and vernacular musics take, they will always have unmeasurable value when viewed as paragons of the present rather than relics of the past. We are all lucky to inhabit a present that includes Robert Finley.
Watch for an exclusive BGS Artist of the Month interview with Finley later in November and, for now, enjoy our Essential Robert Finley playlist below.
Photo Credit: Jim Herrington