Artist: Tim Easton
Album: American Fork
Label: Last Chance Records
Release Date: 09/09/2016
Tim Easton has led a showman’s life. Now based in Nashville, not too far from his birthplace in Akron, OH, Easton is seeking yet another new direction. It’s not that Easton hasn’t recorded with full backing bands before. In fact, he’s rocked out as a front man. Recently, though, he’s been in a more stripped-down mode. 2013’s Not Cool has a Tennessee Three trio sound. Others have been more in a folk mode. Before his recording career got underway (now at well over 100 published original songs), Tim was a full-fledged troubadour, playing the clubs and busking in Europe, living in Paris, London, Prague, Dublin, or wherever he laid his hat for seven years.
These kinds of experiences obviously produce plenty of fodder for songs, and sure enough, Easton has proved to be one of the best, if underappreciated, storytellers of our time. He’s been doing it for twenty years now. Upon his return to the states, New West Records released five solo albums beginning with 2001’s The Truth About Us, which featured key members of Wilco as his backing band. During this period he often opened shows for Lucinda Williams, John Hiatt and Steve Earle. Easton even spent a few years in Alaska.
With plenty of touring behind him as both a support and feature act, this is his second record since relocating to Nashville. It not only features a full band, but five female background singers, elaborate song arrangements with cello and pedal steel effects that are at times orchestral. Despite all of that, this is one of his strongest singer/songwriter efforts yet. It’s no surprise that this album rocketed to #13 on the Americana Radio Chart in its debut week.
The melodies and song structures will draw you in but once there, it’s Easton’s lyrics, both the wordplay and messages that most impress. As the album title suggests, these songs are an intelligent, quietly provocative take on our divided state at this time. Take for example, Easton’s take on our dependence on technology in “Elmore James” –
A lot of racket being made in the world today/These drum machines all sound the same/I think I hear a song, mostly just fun and games/Call me old fashioned or behind the times/But the one that got the money makers shaking all night was Elmore James.
“Now vs. Now” comments on the distrustful nature of the music industry. “Gatekeeper” speaks to our distorted economy. “Killing Time” is another topical song. But before you think this is preachy stuff, it’s not. He’s much too clever for that. And there are two gorgeously melodic songs: “Burning Star” and the closer, “On My Way.” My only quibble is that the album is a bit short, at only eight tracks. Nonetheless, if you haven’t yet listened to Tim Easton, do it now. He’s one of the best, and needs no big label to prove it.