Music in the Gardens: Robert Finley | Duke Campus: Sarah P Duke Gardens | Clubs & Concerts | Indy Week
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Robert Finley

Photo by Aaron Greenhood

Robert Finley

Music in the Gardens: Robert Finley 

When: Wed., June 14, 7 p.m. 2017
Price: $5–$10, 12 and under free

Over the last ten or fifteen years, we've seen several examples of older R&B artists emerging from either obscurity or inactivity to enjoy an unexpected renaissance. It's happened for the likes of Bettye LaVette, Solomon Burke, and Charles Bradley, to name a few. But the story of Robert Finley is somewhat different, and ultimately even more inspirational. The Louisiana-born singer and guitarist has been playing professionally since the early seventies, when he led a band in the United States Army. He continued playing after returning to civilian life, but much like the majority of musicians (even great ones), he couldn't make a living at it. Finley ended up supporting himself through carpentry instead, while still playing when he could.

Fast-forward to 2015: Finley was performing on the streets and, due to becoming legally blind, was no longer able to make money as a carpenter. The do-gooder Music Maker Relief Foundation encountered Finley at this crucial point and stepped in to facilitate a major change in his life. The Hillsborough-based non-profit helped him to get his musical career back on track, and soon he was performing regularly for more people than ever before. One thing led to another, and, last year, the sixty-three-year-old Finley finally released his debut album, Age Don't Mean a Thing, on Big Legal Mess Records, the Fat Possum offshoot responsible for records by older bluesmen like Leo Welch, Asie Payton, and Jimmy "Duck" Holmes."

Soon the world at large—or at least that portion of the world predisposed to old-school soul sounds—found out exactly what it had been missing for all those decades when Finley was laboring under the radar. His album was not only one of the strongest of the year, it was one of the most revelatory R&B releases to emerge in a good while. Who could have guessed a talent like his was hiding in plain sight for so long?

Much of Finley's previous work had been in a bluesier vein, but the decision to go in more of a sixties-style Southern soul direction for Age Don't Mean a Thing turned out to be a sage one. Finley's a first-class soul man, with a rich, expressive voice, and the organic, unfussy production provides the perfect complement. There aren't too many artists around today who can approach this kind of feel with as much grit and gravitas as Finley, so embrace the opportunity to experience his sound firsthand. —Jim Allen

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