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With her new album, “Common Law Wife,” acclaimed Americana singer-songwriter Angela Easterling – once hailed by Byrds co-founder Roger McGuinn as “a bright shining star on the horizon” – clearly spells out the direction her life has taken in recent years.
“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 on the classic country-styled title track, joyfully explaining the relationship she now has with her longtime musical collaborator Brandon Turner.
Recorded with Joe Pisapia (Guster, k.d. lang, Drew Holcomb) at his Middletree Studios in Nashville, “Common Law Wife” – in addition to sparkling multi-instrumental performances by Turner – features some of Music City’s finest musicians, including Will Kimbrough, Fats Kaplin, Dave Jacques and Paul Griffith.
In her typical straightforward fashion, Easterling further reveals how she and Turner arrived at their “common law” arrangement with such lines as “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 lives with her partner and their toddler son on the Greer, S.C., farm that has been in her family since 1791, specifically in the house that her World War II veteran grandfather built on the property several decades ago.
Motherhood, Easterling says, “is definitely the biggest inspiration for songwriting I’ve ever had,” a statement that’s evident throughout “Common Law Wife,” which collectively offers quite a few lyrics that celebrate the arrival of her first child, and explores the complexities, struggles and joys of her experience.
But don’t think for a moment that becoming a mother has softened Easterling’s musical perspective. “Common Law Wife” is also loaded with songs that tackle plenty of non-gentle subjects ranging from murder to civil rights.
Among the album’s highlights is “Isaac Woodard’s Eyes,” which Easterling 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.
“Civil rights history is something that’s always touched my heart and hit home for me,” Easterling says. “That story, which happened in my home state, is something that seems unimaginable, yet I believe it’s still relevant in our modern life.”
And then there’s the leadoff track, “Hammer,” the writing of which was completed on the day that folk music icon Pete Seeger died and was inspired by the work ethic of both him and Easterling’s aforementioned grandfather, Harold Hammett.
“It’s really hard to sit around and binge-watch Netflix when you’re living in a house that Harold Hammett built!” Easterling says. “Whenever I’m here, I feel like I need to get up and do something, to get to work.”
“And I found Pete Seeger, who was someone I looked up to as a hero, to have a similar spirit to my grandfather in that he was always out there working for the things he believed in.”
“Common Law Wife” also features Easterling singing a duet with Will Kimbrough, who produced two of her previous albums. The song, “Aching Heart,” by the way, is her young son’s favorite. Another sweet spot is “Table Rock”, a joyful celebration of life only getting better as one gets older.
In “Throwing Strikes,” Easterling, a diehard Boston Red Sox fan, uses baseball imagery to help paint a picture of the despair felt in communities where once-thriving mills have been abandoned. The baseball concept, she says, was inspired by a lyric (“a vandal’s smile, a baseball in his right hand”) in Jason Isbell’s song, “Relatively Easy.” She calls her own song, which has an early Steve Earle/Bruce Springsteen vibe, a “David and Goliath story.”
“Goliath isn’t necessarily the mill but the powers-that-be that move these jobs overseas, and also the workings of the universe that lead some people to be successful and some not to be successful,” she says. “It’s that helpless feeling, like you’re up against a brick wall, and you’re trying your best and not getting anywhere.”
Throughout her career, beginning with her 2007 debut album, “Earning Her Wings,” which was chosen as “Americana Pick of the Year” by Smart Choice Music,” Easterling has embraced her heritage in a big way as a writer and an artist.
Her second album, 2009’s “BlackTop Road,” debuted on the Americana Top 40 chart, where it remained for seven weeks, and it was chosen as a top pick in both Oxford American and Country Weekly. One of its songs, “The Picture,” was named the year’s “best political country song” by the Boston Herald.
Easterling’s other albums include 2011’s “Beguiler,” which featured special guest Byron House (Robert Plant’s Band of Joy), and 2012’s “Mon Secret,” which is notable for being sung entirely in French with original songs by Easterling and her co-writer, Marianne Bessy.
Recognized as a top-notch songwriter in roots music circles, Easterling was selected for an official Americana Convention Showcase and is also a three-time Kerrville New Folk Finalist (2009, 2010, 2015), a Telluride Troubadour (2011) and a two-time Wildflower Performing Songwriter Finalist (2012, 2015).
Easterling was invited to appear on the WSM-hosted stage at CMA Music Festival/Fan Fair, where her entire set was broadcast live, and she has appeared on the nationally broadcast public radio program, “Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know,” the popular ETV show, “Making It Grow,” and has been interviewed by noted NPR journalist Bob Edwards.
Over the years, Easterling has opened for or appeared on stage with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Sarah Jarosz, Lucinda Williams, Charlie Louvin, Elizabeth Cook, Robbie Fulks, Mary Gauthier, Ray Price, Suzy Bogguss, Ellis Paul, Radney Foster, the Oak Ridge Boys and Lori McKenna.
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