69 year-old Winnsboro, LA-born, Bernice, LA-based singer/songwriter and JOVM mainstay Robert 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 wildly successful 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 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 saw the pair adopting a much different creative process. Rather than write songs beforehand, as they did on 2017’s Goin’ Platinum and 2021’s 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, Finley’s daughter and granddaughter.
They worked quickly, devising their parts spontaneously and usually 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 album and its material 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.
In the lead up to the album’s release, I’ve managed to write about two of the album’s singles:
“What Goes Around (Comes Around),” a swampy, blues rocker that subtly recalls Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Green River” 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.”
“Sneakin’ Around” is a classic blues and soul tale of deception, deceit and a bit of deserved comeuppance, featuring Finley’s heartbroken yet defiantly proud narrator describing how he found out his lover was repeatedly cheating on him. This is paired with a swampy and gritty, Motown-meets-Muscle Shoals-like groove complete with a big horn line, and a scorching guitar solo.
“Whatever is in the dark is gonna come to the light, so don’t play around,” Finley says.
Black Bayou’s third and latest single “Nobody Wants To Be Lonely” is an old school, fried slice of deep southern soul built around R&B/soul guitar licks, a laid back funky groove and a steady drum pattern paired with Finley’s achingly tender vocal. The song offers a message of understanding, resilience and hope in the face of isolation, aging — and our inevitable mortality. Although rooted in some of Finley’s experiences and those of folks he knows, the song speaks of a universal, deeply embittering experience.
“This song is about the many people who have been forgotten,” Finley explains. “Their kids drop them off and go with their lives. I go down occasionally and perform at the old folks home in Bernice. Just take my guitar and play for thirty minutes or so, try to get them to dance, try to bring some joy to them.”
Continuing his ongoing collaboration with director Tim Hardiman, the accompanying video begins with Finley waking to a Dear John letter from his lover. But all is not lost. Throughout there’s a sense of hope: We see Finley reunite with a bunch of old pals to play the song. Sunlight streams through the dark halls that Finley walks down, as well.