By Dan Armonaitis
Sunday, July 19, 2015
Angela Easterling isn't shy about making public the life-altering events she's experienced since the release of her last two albums, 2011's “Beguiler” and 2012's French-language “Mon Secret.”
“Common Law Wife” is the acclaimed Americana singer-songwriter's newest album, and the lyrics to the classic country-styled title track lay out the facts clearly.
“Now I'm a common law wife, living out my life/I ain't got no license, I'm a common law wife,” Easterling sings, joyfully explaining the relationship she now has with her longtime musical collaborator Brandon Turner.
Easterling — accompanied by her full backing band, The Beguilers, composed of Turner on guitar, Don McGraw on bass and Scott Stinson on drums — will perform a “preview party” for the new album at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at The Peddler in Spartanburg. The album will be officially released in August, and the band will perform a CD release show at 3 p.m. Aug. 1 at Horizon Records in Greenville.
Later in the song, she reveals how the couple arrived at their “common law” arrangement: “You'd think I'd learned my lesson 'bout those birds and those bees/Well, imagine my surprise then, when the stork came to my door.”
Easterling and Turner now live together with their 2-year-old son, Harrison, on a Greer farm that has been in the maternal side of Easterling's family since 1791 — specifically, in the house that her grandfather, Harold Hammett, a World War II veteran, built on the property several decades ago.
“Somewhere along the lines of being musical partners, Brandon and I became life partners as well,” Easterling said. “And, you know, we kind of got thrown this curveball that turned out to be a wonderful thing.
“Now, we're trying to make all the family aspect work while still wanting to play music and travel and tour and everything. This (album) is just a reflection of where I am in my life right now.”
That Easterling uses the term “curveball” should come as little surprise to her many fans, who have become accustomed to her occasional social media posts about her passion for baseball.
Fluor Field, the home of the minor league Greenville Drive, “is my very favorite place to come in Greenville when I'm home from the road and I have a night off to spend with my family,” she said.
And as luck would have it, the Drive is a Single A affiliate of Easterling's beloved Boston Red Sox, the team she began following when she was a student at Emerson College in Boston in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“I used to go to games at Fenway Park when I was in college, and it's just amazing to get to come here and see the guys work their way up to get to play at Fenway,” Easterling said.
Among the 12 songs on Easterling's new album is “Throwing Strikes,” in which she uses baseball imagery to help paint a picture of the despair felt in communities where once-thriving mills have been abandoned. Musically, it has a bit of an early Steve Earle/Bruce Springsteen vibe.
“I got the idea for the baseball side of the song from a line in a Jason Isbell song ('Relatively Easy') from his last album,” Easterling said. “There was a line that said, 'a vandal's smile, a baseball in his right hand,' and I was like, 'oh yeah, that's it. I want this guy out there breaking the windows in the building.'”
The album, “Common Law Wife,” was recorded with Joe Pisapia, whose credits include Guster, k.d. lang and Drew Holcomb, at his Middletree Studios in Nashville, Tenn. In addition to multi-instrumental performances by Turner, it features some of Music City's finest musicians, including Will Kimbrough, Fats Kaplin, Dave Jacques and Paul Griffith.
Kaplin, whose impressive resume includes playing in rock star Jack White's band, was “home for only one day and had something going on that morning and something that night, and yet he still drove out (to the studio) and played on my album, which is really amazing,” Easterling said. “I feel really lucky.”
Easterling credits Kimbrough, who produced two of her previous albums, with helping her connect with such high-caliber instrumentalists and appreciates that he also was willing to play on the album.
“To me, it's not a record if it doesn't have Will Kimbrough on it,” Easterling said. “He's just so great.”
A socially conscious artist, Easterling, who was once hailed by Byrds co-founder Roger McGuinn as “a bright shining star on the horizon,” recently returned from a performance with Turner at the annual Woody Guthrie Festival in Okemah, Okla.
Her new album includes a song, “Isaac Woodard's Eyes,” which she was inspired to write after learning about the real-life story of an African-American World War II veteran who was savagely beaten and blinded by police officers in South Carolina just hours after being honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 1946.
“When I wrote that song last June, I had no way of conceptualizing that a modern-day audience would relate to it in terms of things that are going on right now,” Easterling said. “I just thought that people would see it as something from our past that we should recognize.”
Perhaps what sets “Common Law Wife” apart from her previous work is the inspiration provided by her newfound motherhood. Easterling can't help but notice that even in a song as powerful as “Isaac Woodard's Eyes,” she included the lines, “I think about that uniform he wore/A mother's son off fighting in a war.”
More direct lyrics pertaining to the arrival of her first child can be found on a few other songs as Easterling explores the complexities, struggles and joys of her experience.
“As you look at things with a mother's eyes, it affects everything, although I tried not to make every single song about (being a mother),” Easterling said.
Easterling, who grew up in the Upstate but spent much of her adult life in Boston and Los Angeles before returning home in 2007, said balancing a music career with raising a child would be nearly impossible without the support of her and Turner's families, who often assist with babysitting duties.
“Brandon and I have talked about whether we should move somewhere else, should we live in Nashville or something, but what we would be giving up in terms of all the help that we get from our family here, I don't know if it would be worth it,” Easterling said.
For now, she's content to remain in Greer and appreciate the bundle of joy that entered her life two years ago.
“Before I had Harrison, my whole life kind of revolved around just my music and playing shows and stuff,” Easterling said. “And while I loved that and it was great, there was somewhat of an emptiness to it for me in some ways, you know, coming back home to my house with just me and my cat.
“So, I like having (Harrison) in my life. I like having someone to take care of and take the focus off myself. That's been the most freeing thing — just being free from my own ego.”