When Angela Easterling prepared to record her sophomore record, her wish list for producers had one name in bold: Will Kimbrough. “We seem to have a very similar vocabulary musically,” Easterling says of the Nashville Underground hero. “Plus, he has a firm foothold in a rock sound.” Kimbrough ended up signing on, and, sure enough, “BlackTop Road” rocks the rock and talks the talk – and does so eloquently.
Some of that eloquence no doubt stems from the bulk of Easterling’s songwriting being drawn directly from her own experiences, with the title track detailing the struggles of a farm that’s been in her family for more than 200 years while the introspective leadoff cut American I.D. dissects her wanderlust. She can work outside of her own sphere of influence though: the penetrating pair of The Picture and Field of Sorrow were inspired by a secondhand story and the novel The Lovely Bones respectively. Things definitely do get louder this time out, with the roots-rock hooks of American I.D. and Birmingham and the righteous jangle of One Microphone calling out for immediate attention. But quieter numbers like A.P. Carter’s Blues and Stars Over the Prairie – the latter a revisiting of a song her great-grandfather wrote in the ’40s – suggest that Easterling’s about as likely to relinquish that part of her musical personality as she is to forsake the family farm. And holding down the middle of the record is an adventurous and strikingly confident take on Helpless. Those looking to connect some dots might recall that Kimbrough once wrote a song titled Neil Young for his band Will & the Bushmen. Yep, similar vocabularies.