Tim Easton is the sort of singer-songwriter who, if he is fortunate enough, has a long and hard road ahead of him. Like most alt-country stars, starlets and legends that have preceded him, there will be great praise, greater love in his work, but probably not as much to show in his wallet or bank account. The musician's last record The Truth About Us was a gem of an album and gave the troubadour some great recognition. Now, with his latest album, Easton has blended what made him genuine from his beginning with a grittier, edgier, damn-the-torpedoes sound courtesy of several musicians including Heartbreaker Mike Campbell.
Beginning with a nice folk pop sound that comes off not as great as Ryan Adams but eons better than John Mayer, "Poor, Poor LA" shows the singer nestling into his niche. The rambling last verse tends to dampen the song, but the chorus steers it back onto the proper course. It even includes portions of the Eldridge Cleaver composition "Soul on Ice". "Black Hearted Ways" is another gem of a track that resembles a cross between Paul Westerberg and Ron Sexsmith if that's conceivable. "They found you outdoors running with the unfortunates / Now they're sending you back to your black hearted ways," Easton sings with Mike Campbell on guitar and Jim Keltner on drums. "John Gilmartin", penned by one of Easton's friends J.P. Olsen, is your standard laid-back Americana track complete with mandolin.
Listening to Easton's voice, he has a certain Southern softness that isn't found that often. You also get the feeling that an older hit like R. Dean Taylor's "Indiana Wants Me" would become another hit by him. "Hanging Tree" has a lovely flow to it over its five minutes. Very wordy but never boring, this tune brings to mind Dylan's Blood on the Tracks in certain instances because of its confrontational and stark tone. "Why don't you pick up and go / I've already let you know / That I'm nothing for you to trust / And that is the truth about us," is a perfect example of this quality. One of the tracks that doesn't quite fit is the blues acoustic boogie of "Lexington Jail". Similar in tempo to the current Dylan repetoire, its bouncy nature tends to works against itself here.
The album's best song, although several are contending, would have to be "Hummingbird", a slow and melodic track with subtle additions throughout. From the backing harmonies to its subtle drumming, Easton never misses a note. Jai Winding's piano is supported by Easton's harmonica, giving it a certain Springsteen-like charm. And like most good singer-songwriters, Easton can take the oddest subject and coin a tune from it. "Amor Azul", which describes some concoction he drank in Oaxaca, Mexico, is another great number with Greg Leisz on dobro and Jilann O'Neill on backing vocals. One negative to the song is that it could fade out more deliberately than it actually does.
Another somber nugget is "Watching the Lightning", based on a true story Easton was told about the day his last album was released. Although it tends to drag a bit as it comes around the homestretch, the song's lyrical content is powerful and striking. "Everybody always knew that he would die in some fucked up way," he sings, but the repetitive last line diminishes the song, especially being stretched for so long. "Man That You Need", a track that is Easton being a one-man band outfit, isn't as strong as the earlier tunes, but the pristine arrangement and ethereal-like instrumentation diverts one's attention. This album should be of great use to anyone who needs another fix of honest songwriting.