By Kevin Oliver
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Find It: angelaeasterling.bandcamp.com
Greer-based singer-songwriter Angela Easterling veers toward folk on Common Law Wife, her latest LP — currently streaming online with an option to pre-order. Fashioned with help from Brandon Turner, her partner on and off the stage, the album still features a few of the whip-crack roots-pop tunes Easterling has previously perfected — the small town celebration “Throwing Strikes” is particularly sharp. But more often, she relies on acoustic guitars and graceful introspection.
Some of these songs are downright chilling. “Arkansas Murder Ballad,” which Easterling previewed last year, foreshadowed this new direction. Dipping into the civil rights movement, “Isaac Woodard’s Eyes” tackles the true story of a South Carolina cop who in 1946 beat the newly returned war veteran Isaac Woodard until he was permanently blind; the officer was subsequently acquitted by an all-white jury. “That cop went on to live a long long life,” Easterling offers with a seething warble over plaintive acoustic plucks, as haunted distortion rises in the distance. “I pray he dreams at night of Isaac Woodard’s eyes.”
Not everything on Common Law Wife is so serious. The title track is a sassy country shuffle that takes the classic backbeat of Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Two and marries it to a story worthy of a Hee Haw skit. “Table Rock,” set to a relaxed backwoods rollick, is a romantic remembrance of simpler times that plays out against the backdrop of that famous Upstate landmark.
Produced by Turner and Joe Pisapia, the album features a slate of top-notch players including Will Kimbrough, Fats Kaplin, Dave Jacques and Paul Griffith. Turner’s tasteful licks provide support and texture throughout, but Easterling is the star. Her ability to shift so easily between upbeat rockers and bleak folk ballads is a feat of varied song craft. There’s nothing common about it.