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The unlikely stardom of bluesman Robert Finley

A bluesman’s happy ending

Plus, a badass soprano, and other musical notes

Plus, a badass soprano, and other musical notes

December/January 2018

A screenwriter might reject Robert Finley’s story for being too far-fetched. Who in their right mind would give a chance to an unknown 60-something from Louisiana who only turned to music full time when his failing eyesight meant he could no longer work as a carpenter? Not long ago, though, Finley’s first album, which came out in 2016, attracted the attention of Dan Auerbach, frontman of the Black Keys, a Grammy-award-winning rock band. Auerbach signed Finley to his record label, and paired him with the best Southern blues and soul musicians for his second record, Goin’ Platinum! What he sings of isn’t new – lovers are lost, a “medicine woman” is implored to “have pity on your man” – but there’s a vivacity and enthusiasm to “Goin’ Platinum!” that makes it irresistible. Auerbach’s production is grainy and rough-hewn, giving the album an energy that’s not sanded down by studio trickery, and Finley’s voice is a holler that reflects his years, in its rasp, and the opportunity he’s been handed, in the joy he sounds barely able to contain. ~ MICHAEL HANN
Goin’ Platinum! Dec 8th

In praise of saze
A kind of folk music from Albania’s mountainous south, saze is so obscure that it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. But Joe Boyd has been a devotee since hearing it on a grainy video tape in 1988. Nearly 30 years later, the man who produced Pink Floyd’s first single, discovered Nick Drake and worked with Stanley Kubrick on the soundtrack of “A Clockwork Orange” journeyed to Albania to recruit an all-star band of saze musicians. Together, they have brought this extraordinary music to the world.

With their wailing vocals, rhythmical tensions and flourishes of clarinet and violin, Saz’iso, as they are called, play wildly beautiful music. Their debut album, At Least Wave Your Handkerchief at Me (the title comes from the gorgeous third track, “Penxherenë e zotrisë sate”) is an astonishingly rich studio recording, masterfully engineered by a team that could probably record a band with their hands tied behind their backs. But the album also makes you wonder what saze must sound like at home, echoing in some mountain town. Listen to just a few tracks and you may find yourself booking flights to Tirana. ~ JAMES MANNING
Wave Your Handkerchief out now

A death in the family
Charlotte Gainsbourg (pictured) has long been the bard of in-between spaces. “5:55” (2006) was a soundtrack for a long red-eye flight; “IRM” (2010) recreated the experience of getting an MRI scan. So far these ideas have been expressed through lyrics written by collaborators, from Beck to her father, Serge Gainsbourg. On her new album, Rest, Gainsbourg steps into the spotlight, addressing with brutal candour, and in her own words, the recent death of her sister. Filleting snatches of playground songs and memories of her 19-year-old self embracing her father’s dead body and, later, of her sister surrendering to alcoholism, Gainsbourg has made an album which is propelled forward by her raw, angry grief and the pulsing rhythm of French producer SebastiAn. Gainsbourg is still interested in in-betweens – “Rest” explores the dividing line between joy and grief, life and death – but this time, Gainsbourg speaks for herself. ~ EVE WATLING
Rest out now

A soprano picks up the baton
Not for Barbara Hannigan the standard path of the operatic soprano. The Canadian has a predilection for modern and contemporary music: her unusual discography includes music by Erik Satie, George Benjamin and Gerald Barry, and her recent turn as Ophelia in Brett Dean’s new “Hamlet” for Glyndebourne had critics in raptures. But she is not just a celebrated soprano: in 2011, she made her debut as a conductor, simultaneously leading and singing György Ligeti’s deliciously odd “Mysteries of the Macabre”. Since then she has often taken to the podium, where she shows scant regard for the masculine dress code of most female conductors, and where she programmes everything from  Handel to Schönberg.

Soon Hannigan will reprise a favourite role: Alban Berg’s Lulu. Often played as the victim, Hannigan’s Lulu is badass, a woman mightily comfortable in her own skin. “Lulu is an endlessly fascinating, contradictory woman who might defy labels, but is always true to herself,” she says. Not a bad description for Hannigan. ~ CLEMENCY BURTON-HILL
Berg, Debussy, Gershwin, Schönberg Europe, Dec 4th-15th. Lulu Hamburg, Jan 27th-Feb 8th

To listen to a selection of songs from thes pages, search “spotify:user: 1843mag” on Spotify

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