by : Kevin Oliver, Free Times, Columbia, SC
Issue #22.19 :: 05/13/2009 - 05/19/2009
This Greenville musician had to go to Boston, then Los Angeles, before discovering her musical roots lay in the folk, country and roots music of her native South. Easterling released a nearly country album while in L.A., but her upcoming disc Black Top Road treads a more rock ‘n' roll path courtesy of producer Will Kimbrough (who's manned the board for Todd Snider), guitarist Ann McCue and other guests. The title track is a rootsy rave-up that chronicles the threatened development of her family's farm, and it earned her a finalist spot in this year's New Folk songwriting competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Call or email for reservations and directions. (And check out this interview with Easterling.) see below:
Somewhere in my boxes of old local music is a copy of a record that Greenville native Angela Easterling recorded when she was barely out of her teens and playing in coffeehouses. One can almost hear her wince when reminded of that initial effort during a recent phone call.
"Nobody tells you then that if you record something it will still be around years later," Easterling says. "That was my first attempt at recording and it was mostly just me and another guitarist, very acoustic and very simple. I'm not sure I even have a copy of it any more."
Easterling has come a long way from those humble beginnings. After attending college in Boston, she headed west.
"Emerson College had an internship program in Los Angeles, so I spent a year there during school and went back after graduation," Easterling says. "The weather's perfect and it's like a bigger version of Atlanta to me, just really spread out."
It was the musical connections she made there that shaped her first proper album, Earning Her Wings.
"I made a lot of great friends, and there was a good alt-country scene out there that I got into," Easterling says. "That's part of why that album has such an old country sound to it."
That classic country sound had writers comparing her to everyone from Lucinda Williams to Loretta Lynn, but Easterling draws inspiration from more diverse sources, something that she says will be better reflected on her upcoming disc Black Top Road.
"It's funny, but even though I recorded the new album in Nashville, it is much less country sounding," she says. "These newer songs are more complex as far as subject matter, too."
Easterling used noted guitar-slinger and Todd Snider sideman Will Kimbrough to produce the new material, and she says he added more than just experience to the process.
"Will is so creative he can do anything, play anything, and he just brings an open mind and amazing ability," Easterling says. "He also brought in people like Fats Kaplin, Al Perkins, [ex-Wilco drummer] Ken Coomer and [John Prine sideman] David Gates to play on the songs, so they sound great."
Easterling says her aim with the new material is to become an artist like her own inspirations: Emmylou Harris and Neil Young.
"Emmylou does all these different songs, from the Carter Family to the Beatles to Merle Haggard, but it all consistently sounds like her," Easterling says. "Neil Young, he's a major influence on this album, I think. It's definitely a more singer-songwriter album."
The title track is a reference to her family's farm in Greer, which is threatened with the pace of nearby development and growth. In her family since 1791, the Hammett Farm does indeed now have a blacktop road running in front of it, but Easterling and the rest of her extended family are fighting to keep further development away from the property, which is still a working farm business.
In preparation for the upcoming album release, Easterling has assembled a full touring band of Upstate area musicians including hotshot guitarist Brandon Turner, who also plays regularly with Spartanburg's Fayssoux McLean (who, coincidentally, was an early associate of Harris').
"I've been touring solo a lot the past few years, just because it makes more sense financially," Easterling says. "I'm getting a few more gigs regionally now, and with the new album it seemed like it was time to put a group together for some of them. I just played my first shows with the band last week, including an outdoors festival set. Brandon started taking solos and I just let him go off, because the more he solos the better I look."
This week's house concert will be a solo performance, but watch your calendars for a full band set by Easterling in June at the Rhythm on the River concert series in Cayce.