Album Review: Tim Easton, ‘North American Songwriter, Volumes 1 & 2’
Tim Easton never stops chasing a song. He’s written over 100—and counting.
A tireless troubadour, Easton plays for fans around the world in his gritty, down-home style. His new album, North American Songwriter, Volumes 1 & 2 (due out Jan. 27) is the first of five volumes of songs chosen by his fans as their favorites. On it, Easton delivers the songs in the same spare style in which he performs them live—with guitar, harmonica, and vocals. They range from country-blues to John Prine-like story-songs.
The album opens with the Delta blues tune “Gallatin Pike Blues.” Its shimmering harmonica runs play call-and-response to Easton’s plucky guitar riffs. It’s a road song—Gallatin Pike runs through East Nashville—that name-checks one of East Tennessee’s most infamous residents, Andrew Jackson, as well as one of the most beloved musical vagabonds, John Hartford.
The jaunty “Voice on the Radio,” with its Dylan-esque harmonica, is an homage to the late John Prine. Easton celebrates Prine’s voice as it comes over the radio, “calm and sweet and cool and low,” with a power to soothe. Like Prine’s voice, Easton’s own sweet vocals wrap the listener in warmth.
“Next to You” opens with a lilting harmonica that wraps around Easton’s vocals and guitar like the lover in the song. He pleads with his lover for intimacy and the simple act of lying under the ceiling fan, listening to music side by side. The Cat Stevens-like “Scratch the Sky” ponders the process of songwriting and mulls the power of memory.
Finger-picking on “Peace of Mind” accompanies post-breakup lyrics that declare a kind of golden rule (“I want you to have the same peace of mind that I have for myself”). “Old New Straitsville Blues” features Leo Kottke-like guitar work as Easton sings about “paying the traveler’s dues” and proclaims he’s ready to settle down. On or off the road, the song declares, the blues are the same.
The propulsive “Special 20” skitters rowdily along Easton’s hard-charging harmonica runs and his rapid-fire guitar riffs, while “The River Where Time Was Born” lazily flows along a New Orleans-style current. Easton cleverly matches his vocals and guitar, note for note, on “Whiskey Drinking Girls” to create an atmospheric tale of the dangers of lust and liquor. Meanwhile, “Festival Song” is a celebration of the power of music to bring people together—“From Tennessee to Yasgur’s Farm/We wake up in each other’s arms/When we all come together/It feels like the world is gonna be alright.”
All told, North American Songwriter, Volumes 1 & 2 displays Easton’s illuminating lyricism. We also get his ability to tell a story with just the right twist, the right emotional tenor to draw the listener into the universe of his songs.
These stripped-down versions allow us to hear the songs again for the first time.
North American Songwriter, Volumes 1 & 2 is available HERE.
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