**I try to keep this up to date, starting with most recent press and working back. They may be a little out of order, but that’s the general premise. **
Angela Easterling, from the heartland to Whippany, NJ
‘Blacktop Road,” the title track from Angela Easterling’s second CD, is an infectious piece of country-rock, propelled by a driving beat and a catchy chorus. But when you listen to the lyrics, you get a more downbeat message: The singer’s family farm has been torn apart to make way for a paved highway.
What makes Easterling’s song doubly compelling is the fact that it’s true. The farm in Greer, S.C., that had belonged to her mother’s family since 1791 was subdivided so a road could go through it. And, as she sings: “They thought they’d be friendly, maybe throw us a bone / They slapped our family name on that blacktop road.”
Easterling, joined by guitarist Brandon Turner, will bring her heartfelt brand of Americana music to the Ukrainian American Cultural Center in Whippany Friday night.
Though all her lyrics are written in the first person, not every song is autobiographical. For example, “The Picture” tells the haunting story of an older woman who finds a photograph of a lynched black man among her late father’s possessions. That discovery forces the woman to examine her father in a new light.
That song is based on the experience of a friend of Easterling’s aunt, Easterling says.
“She had found that picture, and she wasn’t able to ask her father about the story behind it,” the singer says. “I wanted to do a song about racism, and that story let me frame it in a personal way. I thought it made it more powerful by telling it in the first person.”
Her musical style falls squarely in the nexus of country, folk and rock that has come to be called “Americana.” She admits it’s a genre that is sometimes hard for people to understand.
“I started out doing the folk thing, but that wasn’t me,” she says. “Then I tried country, and that didn’t work either.”
Easterling’s role models as a musicians are The Indigo Girls.
“I just loved them in high school and in college, and I still love them,” she says. Another inspiration is Emmylou Harris, “especially her wonderful albums from the 1970s. They were so eclectic. She’d have a Beatles song, a Carter Family song and a Merle Haggard song all on the same album.”
Easterling’s first CD (not counting a couple of collections of demos released in the early 2000s) was 2007’s “Earning Her Wings.”
“We recorded that in Los Angeles. It was still Americana, but it was a little more traditional country,” she says.
The songs on “Blacktop Road” were written after Easterling moved back to South Carolina to help her family deal with the problems on the family farm.
“These songs are more complex and more personal,” she says.
She also decided to pay tribute to her family by recording “Stars Over the Prairie,” a song written by her great-grandfather, Gene Easterling.
“He wrote it for a B-movie Western in the ’40s,” she says. “So we recorded it the way it would have been done back then. That was a lot of fun.” (The only other song on “Blacktop Road” that she didn’t write is a plaintive cover of Neil Young’s “Helpless.”)
Easterling admits the music business can be difficult for an emerging artist.
“It’s a crowded field, and there are a lot of great songwriters out there,” she says. “I try to distinguish myself by being myself and telling my story.”