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Music Review: Angela Easterling – BlackTop Road

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Ten reasons to listen to Angela Easterling:

1. This is a road trip worth taking.
BlackTop Road, Easterling’s second album (not to be confused with “BlackTop Road,” the single), doesn’t fall conveniently into any one category, embracing roots rock and comfy country while adding elements of pure pop and righteous folk. There are expressions of sadness (“Field of Sorrow”), frustration (a rousing “Big Wide World”) and resentment (“The Picture”). But it also captures what the most endearing moments of a warm family reunion at her longtime South Carolina home might feel like. Eleven of the 13 songs were written by Easterling, yet she reached back into her proud heritage to update her great-grandfather’s “Stars Over the Prairie.” And she also pays her respects to another familial patriarch in "A.P. Carter’s Blues,” where she’s haunted by the spirit of one of country music’s founding fathers after visiting his grave.

2. She’s an all-Americana girl …
Easterling will be one of the showcase artists at the 2009 Americana Music Festival to be held September 16-19 at five downtown Nashville venues. She’s in pretty good company, too, with Asleep at the Wheel, Cross Canadian Ragweed and Marty Stuart among a long list of performers.

3. … and Roger McGuinn’s latest “Sweetheart”
The jingle-jangle guitarist and founder of the legendary Byrds made Easterling’s opening song, “American I.D.,” one of his choice cuts on a recent BBC radio show and went on to call her “a bright shining star on the country/folk/alt.music horizon!” and said BlackTop Road (De L’Est Music) “brought me back to the time the Byrds recorded Sweetheart of the Rodeo – tradition meets youthful exuberance!”

4. She sounds like …
Well, take your pick. Fellow Carolinian (from the North side, though) Tift Merritt would be a good place to start, particularly on the wistful “One Microphone.” After a breakup, “those old happy chords sound so blue,” sings Easterling, who also provides a French version as a bonus track. But Angela's angelic voice on “Better” and the romantic “Birmingham” also bring to mind Nina Gordon, while there’s a hint of feisty Miranda Lambert on the spirited “BlackTop Road.” That’s covering a lot of ground and range.

5. There’s an inner Steve Earle just itching to get out.
“BlackTop Road,” the single (not to confused with BlackTop Road, the album) should be the perfect companion piece to Earle’s “Copperhead Road” on the Hardcore Troubadour’s show for Sirius’ Outlaw Country channel. On her personal protest song, an angry Easterling verbally kicks ass as some South Carolina land in her family since the late 18th century is being grabbed by the state for development. With verses like “We cried, ‘This can’t happen in the USA!’ / They said, ‘You’d better shut up or we’ll take your farm away,’” the song and the singer seem destined for a spot in FarmAid.

6. When’s she not writing records …
An excerpt of a letter this “lifelong Democrat” wrote to Rolling Stone regarding an article titled “The Death Tax’ Scam” was printed in a recent issue, denouncing the inheritance tax and how it’s affecting not-so-wealthy property owners everywhere. Easterling’s eloquent prose is heartfelt, even in sentences RS leaves out: “I believe the community is a better place with the historical legacy, old-growth trees and open land preserved, rather than just another Walmart or gas station in its place.”

7. Then there’s that tweet comedic touch.
On Twitter, Easterling took South Carolina scandalous governor Mark Sanford to task even before Letterman and Conan had punchlines prepared for their monologues. Some samples:
• This is a great day for our state! SC just pulled ahead of TX and AK in the most embarrassing Governor competition!
12:56 PM Jun 24th from web
• Haha, Sanford didn't want Obama's stimulus package because he was too busy delivering his own stimulus pkg in Argentina!
12:40 PM Jun 24th from web

Easterling also recently posted this twitpic taken of her with Earle, commenting, I have to laugh b/c we both look so jolly and both sing about such miserable stuff, LOL :)

8. Who’s her “Daddy”?
Brilliant guitarist Will Kimbrough has worked with everyone from Rodney Crowell to Jimmy Buffett to Allison Moorer, and currently runs a band with Tommy Womack called Daddy. He and Easterling aren’t really related, but the Alabaman produced her album and plays just about everything on it, including mandolin, banjo, dobro, piano and, of course, acoustic and electric guitars. Easterling adds acoustic guitar throughout while accomplished musicians such as Fats Kaplin (fiddle, accordion, among others), Al Perkins (pedal steel) and Anne McCue (lead guitar on “BlackTop Road,” lap steel) are also major players in this well-rounded instrumental cast.

9. Young love for Neil Young
Covering the Canadian who made country cool must be a prerequisite for up-and-coming musicians seeking to graduate with honors from the school of songwriting. Fortunately, Easterling’s rendition of “Helpless” isn’t overproduced, relying mainly on her plaintive vocals and a solid bass line. It fits right in with other recent low-key rendition’s of Young classics performed by Holly Williams (“Birds”) and the Cowboy Junkies (“Don’t Let It Bring You Down”).

10. She’s mad about Mad Men
The terrific Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning television show about ad men, their wives and their often miserable lives set in New York City during the stylish Sixties returns for its third season on August 16, and Easterling wants to be on it. She’s urging fans to choose her during an open casting call at amctv.com that runs until August 11.

If anybody deserves to go back in time, it’s this sweet Southern bella donna. So stop, look and listen up. If you want to make your vote count, just pretend you’re picking the next Americana idol.

Credits
• Angela Easterling publicity photo by Coke Whitworth.
• For tour dates, news and more, go to Angela Easterling’s MySpace page.

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