“You’d think I’d learned my lesson ‘bout those birds and those bees / Well, imagine my surprise then, when the stork came to my door.”
That’s the line that sets up the premise for Common Law Wife, Angela Easterling’s striking new album and the one that may in fact bring her the notice that’s eluded her for so long.
“Now I’m a common law wife, living out my life / I ain’t got no license, I’m a common law wife”, she continues, and as she does so, she states the case for many women in this increasingly commitment adverse society. That’s not to say she’s a saint; after all she presumably knew what she was getting into. But as a champion for the rights of an underdog — in this case women with no safety net to protect them — it’s an effective statement about a scenario that’s rarely ever addressed.
Easterling’s earned kudos before, thanks to a series of albums that have shown her strength as both a singer and songwriter operating in Americana realms. Her 2007 debut, the prophetically titled Earning Her Wings was named “Americana Pick of the Year” by Smart Choice Music. Her sophomore set, 2009’s BlackTop Road, spent seven weeks on the Americana Top 40 chart and received a top pick in both Oxford American and Country Weekly. Two other albums followed, including 2012’s Mon Secret, which featured Easterling’s original songs sung entirely in French. Other accolades include kudos from the Kerrville Folk Festival, being named a Telluride Troubadour and twice being cited as a Wildflower Performing Songwriter Finalist.
Then there was that endorsement by the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn that tagged her as “a bright shining star on the horizon.” Not bad coming from a master like McGuinn.
Common Law Wife finds Easterling taking a tack that classic country songs have pursued practically since the beginning of time, that of the downtrodden heroine doggedly standing by her man. In this case, the theme seems to derive from real life circumstance; her romantic relationship with her musical partner Brandon Turner not only resulted in the new album — he co-produced it and played the majority of the instrumentation — but also a son, a scenario that Easterling seems to celebrate throughout the album. Elsewhere she expands her domestic view, describing the plight of a Black World War II veteran who was savagely beaten the day after his honorable discharge, the tragedy that befalls small towns abandoned by the mills that once supplied their livelihood, and the passing of Pete Seeger, whom Easterling looked to for inspiration.
While these may seem like heady themes, Easterling coaxes a tenderness from her topics that comes across in bittersweet ballads like “Aching Heart” and “The Flame” and joyfully expressive rambles such as “Throwing Strikes”, “Common Law Wife”, “Table Rock”, and “I’m Alright”, the latter being the final song of the set and the one that seems to assure the world that being a common-law wife can indeed be a source of satisfaction.
Ultimately, the same can be said for what it offers her audience as well.