not hermes is a mysterious and emerging Lower East Side-based artist. His latest single “machines” is a swaggering bit of electro pop/electro rock built around buzzing bass synths, twinkling keys paired with a seeming penchant for enormous, arena rock-like hooks.
69 year-old Winnsboro, LA-born, Bernice, LA-based singer/songwriter and JOVM mainstay Robert Finley grew up one of eight children in a family of sharecroppers. As a child, Finley as unable to regularly attend school and often worked with his family in the cotton fields. When he was a teenager, he briefly attended a segregated school, but he was forced to drop out in the 10th grade to help the family out financially.
As an adult, Finley has lived a full, complicated and often messy life: He’s an army veteran. He was also a skilled carpenter. He has survived house fires, a bad accident and went through a divorce. He started to lose his sight in his early 60s as a result of glaucoma. And although, he was forced to retire from carpentry, Finley realized that he now had an opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream — becoming a professional singer and musician.
The Louisiana-born and-based JOVM mainstay believes that his sight was improved by the power of prayer — and that his faith has also helped him focus on launching a music career in his 60s. According to Finley “losing my sight, gave me the perspective to see my true identity.”
Acclaimed musician, producer and Easy Eye Sound label head Dan Auerbach immediately saw Finley’s potential, quickly proclaiming that the Louisiana-born and-based artist is “the greatest living soul singer.” As Auerbach recalls in press notes, “He walked in like he was straight out of the swamp.” He adds, “He had leather pants, snakeskin boots, a big Country & Western belt buckle, a leather cowboy hat and a three-quarter-length leather duster. The final touch was the folding cane the legally blind Finley wore on his hip, in a holster. Basically, he was dressed for national television.”
Auerbach went on to produce Finley’s 2017 breakthrough sophomore album Goin’ Platinum, an album released to widespread critical acclaim from the likes of the Associated Press, who praised Finley’s ability to lend “instant credibility to any song” and The Observer, who wrote “Finley’s versatile voice ranges from prime Motown holler to heartbroken falsetto croon.” Finley went on to support the album with international touring across 10 countries — with his live show drawing praise from a number of publications, including The New York Times and several others. He was also profiled on PBS NewsHour, which led him to becoming a contestant on the 2019 season of America’s Got Talent, eventually reaching the semi-finals.
Finley’s third album 2021’s Sharecropper’s Son continued the JOVM mainstay’s successful collaboration with Auerbach, and features songwriting and cowrites from Finley, Auerbach, Bobby Wood and Pat McLaughlin. And much like other Easy Sound releases, the album featured an All-Star backing band of acclaimed players that included Auerbach (guitar); Kenny Brown (guitar), a member of R.L Burnside‘s backing band; studio legends Russ Pahl (pedal steel) and Louisiana-born, Nashville-based Billy Sanford (guitar); Bobby Wood (keys and as previously mentioned songwriting); Gene Chrisman (drums), who’s a Memphis and Nashville music legend; as well as contributions from The Dap Kings‘ Nick Movshon (bass), Eric Deaton (guitar); Dave Roe (bass), who was member of Johnny Cash‘s backing band; Sam Bacco (percussion) and a full horn section.
Sharecropper’s Son may arguably be the most personal album of Finley’s growing catalog, drawing directly from his life and experience. “I was ready to tell my story, and Dan and his guys knew me so well by then that they knew it almost like I do, so they had my back all the way,” Finley says in press notes. “Working in the cotton fields wasn’t a pleasant place to be, but it was part of my life. I went from the cotton fields to Beverly Hills. We stayed in the neighborhood most of our childhood. It wasn’t really all that safe to be out by yourself. One of the things I love about music is that, when I was a boy growing up in the South, nobody wanted to hear what I had to say or what I thought about anything. But when I started putting it in songs, people listened.”
I managed to write about four of the album’s singles:
- “Country Boy,” a swampy and funky bit of country soul featured a tight, strutting groove, bluesy guitar lines, shimmering organ and Finley’s soulful and creaky falsetto paired with autobiographic lyrics, which were improvised on the spot with the tape rolling. “When we play live, I always leave room in the show for lyrics I make up on the spot while the band hits a groove,” Finley explains. “I guess the younger generation calls it free-styling, but for me, it’s just speaking from my mind, straight from my soul.” While lyrically, the song touches upon classic blues fare — heartbreak, loneliness, being broke, being a stranger far away from home and the like, the song is fueled by Finley’s sincerity. He has lived through those experiences, and you can tell that from the vulnerable cracks in his weathered croon.
- Album title track “Sharecropper’s Son,” a strutting blues holler featuring James Cotton-like blasts of harmonica, shimmering Rhodes, a chugging groove, a classic blues solo, and Finley’s creaky and soulful crooning and shouts. And much like its predecessor, the song is fueled by both the lived-in experiences of its writer and the novelistic details within the song: you can feel the hot sun on Finley’s and his siblings’ skin, the sore muscles of backbreaking and unending labor in the fields. But throughout the song, its narrator expresses pride in his family doing whatever they could do legally to survive and keep food on the table.
- “Make Me Feel Alright,” is a swampy boogie that’s one part John Lee Hooker barroom blues, one part Mississippi Delta Blues centered around a twangy blues guitar line, a shuffling rhythm and Finley’s expressive crooning. While being the sort of song you want your bartender to play loudly on a Friday or Saturday night, as you try to spit some game to some pretty young thing, the song as Finley explains in press notes “is about not looking for love, but for companionship. Sometimes you want to find someone to have a good time, You meet someone, have a fun night and then go on your separate ways with your own problems at the end of the night but still experience love in the moment.”
- “I Can Feel Your Pain” is an old school soul ballad centered around twinkling Rhodes, Finley’s expressive crooning, a two-step inducing rhythm, bluesy guitar blasts and a soaring chorus. But at its core, the song is an earnest expression of empathy for everyone who has had a difficult time of things, during this most unusually difficult period. And it comes from the deeply lived-in place of someone who’s experienced profound difficulties and inconsolable loss.
Finley’s highly-anticipated fourth album, Black Bayou is slated for an October 27, 2023 release through Easy Eye Sound. Black Bayou sees the JOVM mainstay continuing his collaboration with Dan Auerbach. Much like its immediate predecessor, the new album’s material is a deeply personal portrait — but this time of Finley’s Louisiana, from an insider, who has lived there all of his life. Sonically, the material coalesces all of the vibrant sounds of the bayou, including gospel, blues, rock and more. The end result is a vivid collection of songs that depicts life in North Louisiana — with Finley playing the role of charismatic and knowledgeable tour guide. “I think that’s one of the biggest things about the album is it tells the truth and the truth will set you free,” Finley told American Songwriter.
“It’s amazing to realize how much of an impact Louisiana has had on the world’s music,” Dan Auerbach says in press notes, “and Robert embodies all of that. He can play a blues song. He can play early rock and roll. He can play gospel. He can do anything, and a lot of that has to do with where he’s from.”
Recorded at Auerbach’s Nashville-based Easy Eye Sound Studio, Black Bayou sees the pair adopting a much different creative process. Rather than write songs beforehand, as they did on 2017’s Goin’ Platinum and Sharecropper’s Son, they devised everything in the studio, with Auerbach leading a backing band of some of the world’s best players, including: Auerbach’s Black Keys bandmate Patrick Carney (drums), G. Love & Special Sauce‘s Jeffrey Clemens (drums), Eric Deaton (bass), legendary Hill Country blues guitarist Kenny Brown and vocalists Christy Johnson and LaQuindrelyn McMahon, who happen to be Finley’s daughter and granddaughter.
They worked quickly, devising their parts spontaneously and using getting everything in one take.“I started singing, and they started playing,” Finley explains. “That’s how we made the album. It wasn’t written out. Nobody used a pencil and paper. We just sang and played together in the studio.” The result is an album that reveals Finley as a truly original Louisiana storyteller, who evokes the place and its unique — and deeply influential — culture for the rest of the world.
Black Bayou‘s first single “What Goes Around (Comes Around)” is a swampy blues rock song that subtly recalls Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Green River” with the song built around an irresistibly funky and shuffling 12 bar blues-driven groove paired around the collaborators’ unerring knack for anthemic hooks and choruses. The song serves as the perfect vehicle for his whiskey soaked gospel-like croons and shouts warning the listener about the weighty impact of karma.
“You gotta reap what you sow… do to another what you would have done to you. Be real, tell the truth. For all those out there hurting, you just have to keep the faith,” the JOVM mainstay says of the song. “I’ve seen it over the years, especially with my career – you got to put joy out into the world and it will come back. It’s never been anything short of the truth for me.”
Directed by frequent visual collaborator Tim Hardiman, the visual for
“What Goes Around (Comes Around)” places the strutting, cooler-than-cool Finley in a larger-than-life, stylish backdrop.
Since their formation in Sydney back in 2015, Death Bells — Will Canning (vocals) and Remy Veselis (guitar) — have developed and honed a sound and approach centered around Canning’s baritone and Veselis’ wiry, reverb-drenched guitar lines that blurs the lines of post-punk and garage rock, while simultaneously becoming a mainstay in the alternative/underground/indie scene nationally and internationally. Naturally, as the duo have grown up and matured into early adulthood, the band has morphed and transformed through the releases of their debut EP, their full-length debut and a seven-inch through Funeral Party Records and a 2019 single through Metropolitan Indian.
The duo relocated to Los Angeles in 2018, where the current iteration of the band has blossomed: They signed to Dais Records, who released their sophomore album 2020’s New Signs of Life, an effort that saw them embracing their diverse tastes to craft expansive, hook-driven songs. As a response to pandemic-related quarantines and lockdowns, the duo secluded themselves at Bombay Beach last year, to record a live session that featured five tracks off New Songs of Life titled Live from Bombay.
Between Here & There, Death Bells highly anticipated third album is slated for a July 29, 2022 release through Dais Records. Recorded with Colin Knight at Paradise Studios, the nine-song album, which sees the duo adopting a collaborative approach features an experienced cast of collaborators on keys, strings, piano and backing vocals not only represents the pair’s continued growth as artists and people; but also is inspired by the vastness, messiness and oddness of their adopted home. While featuring lyrics that the duo consider “narrative, but not autobiographical,” the album’s material ebbs and flows from harrowing to hopeful — and are born of intrigue, intimacy and a sense of “looking outward,” according to the band.
“Hysteria,” Between Here & There‘s fourth and latest single continues a run of material that bristles with urgency and immediacy. While featuring Vessels’ wiry reverb-drenched guitar lines paired with Canning’s baritone, “Hysteria” is rooted in the personal and universal: the search for meaning in a seemingly meaningless, mad world; and the desire to pack up and leave everything behind.
“’Hysteria’ was one of the last songs we wrote as we were putting together the new album,” the duo explain. “It was one of those moments where the tune just figured itself out. It feels urgent, immediate and honest, and we’re very proud of it.”
Cyma is an emerging, self-taught French singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, who started writing songs inspired by Mac Demarco, Childish Gambino, Tom Misch, Daniel Caesar, Mac Miller, Lianne La Havas and others, when he relocated from the French Riviera to Paris in 2017. The emerging, independent French artist released his self-produced, debut EP Living Room Demos back in 2019. The EP featured music videos, which featured self-made animations.
He followed up with 2020’s Where All The Sheep Go EP, which also featured music videos with self-made animations. The emerging, Paris-based artist’s third EP Waves is slated for release this month. And to build up buzz for the soon-to-be released EP, Cyma shares Waves EP‘s latest single, the slow-burning and dreamy “Gollum.” Centered around a lo-fi and unhurried production featuring glistening synth arpeggios, strummed guitar, a shimmering and bluesy guitar solo and Cyma’s plaintive baritone, “Gollum” is a sweet and earnest love song written for his girlfriend.
Directed and shot by Cyma, the recently released video for “Gollum” stars Cyma and his girlfriend hanging out on a couch in a verdant backyard, VHS footage of his girlfriend driving, hanging out around the house, surfing — and footage of the French artist playing his guitar in front of a French convenience store and skateboarding. The video shows a love that’s simple yet very sweet and confronting. From experience, that sort of love is lucky and rare.
JOVM’s William Ruben Helms celebrates Black History Month — and pays tribute to the legendary Al Green.