HalleyAnna Finlay pulls her Gibson from the case. She sets the guitar in her lap. Her eyes smile.
“I grew up listening to people who play music in Texas,” says the youthful singer-songwriter, whose father Kent owns the legendary listening room Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos, Texas.
“I really love the traditional stuff that’s going on in East Nashville like Elizabeth Cook and Caitlin Rose — and Hayes Carll and Slaid Cleaves here in Austin. They embody the same traditional country that I like.”
Now the 26-year-old proves her point with an impromptu covers set. “If I needed you, would you come to me/Would you come to me and ease my pain,” she sings, opening with that Townes Van Zandt song as soft and sweet as summer rain.
HalleyAnna lights up our corner booth at South Austin’s Crow Bar for the next hour with more Van Zandt tunes, along with those written by Carll, Todd Snider and other influences. Several notice when dusk settles against her absolutely stunning take on the Willie Nelson classic “Crazy.” She simply sings like Nelson’s words were stamped on her heart at birth.
Her own lines shine even brighter when she delivers them. Evidence: The Country.
HalleyAnna’s superb debut collection triggers (“So Heavy”) and trundles (“Fast Train”) with effortless elegance. The album, which deftly spotlights her meeting point between Patsy Cline and Emmylou Harris, should serve as an introduction to a skyward-bound emerging talent. High watermarks — particularly “Back in Your Arms Again” and “The Letter,” an unreleased heartbreaker she finishes our interview with at the Crow Bar — already show her growing exponentially sharp as a songwriter.
“Experience is what happens when you don’t get what you want, so songwriting makes me feel better,” she says. “Any time I’d go through a heartache growing up, my dad would say, ‘Well, you’ll get a good song out of it.’ Sure enough, I really did. You can’t write every single song about how somebody broke your heart, so some of the stuff I’ve done is more serious. ‘Back in Your Arms Again’ may sound like a song about somebody who dumped you, but it has a much deeper, eternal, death-related theme about meeting in the next life.”