Slipping into the spot vacated by Nanci Griffith, South Carolinian Angela Easterling provides her perspective on modern country music, motherhood, the state of her nation, lost love, hometown shut downs and matrimony.
Backed by stellar musicians and vocalists - among them Dave Jacques (bass), Joe Pisapia (pedal steel and bass), Paul Griffith (drums) and co-producer and partner Brandon Turner (guitars, vocals and other stuff) - Easterling throws nothing but strikes on her fifth release.
Blend in Will Kimbrough on four tracks, including the lovely (and lonely) duet "Aching Heart," along with Fats Kaplin on a few, and a lively country album is all but guaranteed
Like Griffith, Easterling can flat out sing, and whether the song is reflective and hopeful ("I'm Alright" and "Lay My Head," perhaps) or carrying significant historical heft (the album's standout track, "Isaac Woodward's Eyes," a telling of a World War II soldier's brutal experience upon his return to South Carolina in 1946) she delivers a full-bodied performance.
Songs inspired by family and Pete Seeger ("Hammer"), faith ("The Mountain") and Springsteen-like nostalgia ("Table Rock") connect with the universals of our daily survival. "Arkansas Murder Ballad" is a pretty terrific modern day tale of desperation and death: no ham and jam stand here, once Earl is dispatched.
Lively country music with lyrical substance - no beers, no tailgating, no gals in shorts - and memorable melodies and arrangements make "Common Law Wife" an album well-worth the search.