Angela Easterling’s new record ‘Common Law Wife’ (due August 14) is something of a coming-of-age album. Her fifth studio effort (after ‘Earning Her Wings’, ‘BlackTop Road’, ‘Beguiler’, and the French-sung ‘Mon Secret’), it has a very deliberate theme in mind that is plotted carefully over the 12 tracks, one that reflects the emotions and experiences true to her in the three years since her last album. A country/americana darling and Greer, South Carolina native, ‘Common Law Wife’ sees Angela embracing the life afforded to her, coming to a number of personal realizations with a sense of maturity and acceptance.
On the title track, which is appropriate for its naming of the record given its centerpiece role, she laments her promise that she would never get married, coming to terms with the fact that after unexpected pregnancy and resulting co-habitation she is now a ‘common law wife’. “I was raised in church each Sunday, got a fine college degree, you’d think I’d learned my lesson ‘bout those birds and those bees,” she sings on the track. “Well we wake up each morning when we hear that baby cry, too busy changing diapers now for walking down the aisle.” However, she finds herself content with her situation. “I’m living with the only man who never broke my heart, I guess sometimes in the middle is a real good place to start.”
That contentedness is something that also appears on the sweet country folk tune ‘I’m Alright’, but this album also takes Angela through a lot of trying times. The haunting rock ballad ‘Little Lights’ explores the doubt, fear and wonder of pregnancy, while twangy gospel number ‘The Mountain’ asks God to help her through the darkness, and ‘Aching Heart’ reaches out to someone because “the way that I’m feeling I don’t wanna be alone”. ‘Lay My Head’ iterates a similar narrative, expressing “I lost my way somehow”.
But Angela is also inspired by the stories of others, and ‘Isaac Woodard’s Eyes’ is one such example. It tells the true story of an African-American World War II veteran, who was savagely beaten and blinded by police officers in SC in 1946 after being honourably discharged from the US Army. It’s a truly heartbreaking story, one that Angela brings to life with respect and dignity. On ‘Throwing Strikes’, she pays tribute to communities drastically affected by the faded mill industry, while gorgeous Americana tune ‘Hammer’ finds itself in reverence to hard workers, most specifically her own grandfather, who built the house she now lives in, and Pete Seeger, who she felt shared the same values. Things take a darker turn on ‘Arkansas Murder Ballad’, told from the point of view of a woman who has shot her evil husband and now has to deal with the consequences, while ‘The Flame’ expresses regret at a love that never fully bloomed, her lover instead marrying another woman.
Still, in between Angela’s own trying times and the stories of others, she comes to find some peace in the choices we make. There’s a hint of nostalgia in ‘Table Rock’ as she muses on how she used to be when she was young, inviting her loved one to come with her and experience those old days again. Still, there’s a poignancy to this seemingly simple narrative. “I was so, so sad and serious back when life should have just been fun, now these years have given me what my youth could not have done, the freedom to love,” she sings.
‘Common Law Wife’ is a wonderfully cohesive, brilliantly crafted and beautifully sung record that draws on traditional country, Americana and folk music to deliver a host of timeless songs. If Angela Easterling was celebrated before, then this record is sure to help the cause.