From the July 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY BLAIR JACKSON
The “Paco” in the title of Tim Easton’s latest folk-blues album is the nickname that was bestowed long ago on his trusty, travel-worn, black Gibson J-45, his constant companion over many years of traveling the globe—busking, playing clubs and any place that would have him, scraping by, while building a solid reputation as an incisive storytelling songwriter, an evocative singer (with enough sandpaper and rasp in his voice to match that guitar), and an outstanding fingerstyle player and flatpicker. In its notes, he describes the album as “a love letter of sorts to my guitar through a collection of wayward traveling songs old and new.”
Just as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have mastered the art of writing contemporary songs that sound like ageless old-time country numbers, Easton manages to mine earlier folk and country blues styles as the primary inspiration for his songwriting. As a result, his music has a familiar, even authentically “old” feel to it, but the sentiments and lessons are clearly autobiographical musings drawn from his own peripatetic, sometimes hardscrabble life, and from things he’s seen, and people he’s met, on his travels.
This is a true “solo” album: It’s just Easton’s voice and guitar—and the occasional shuffling, wheezing, or crying harmonica—on nine of his original tunes (plus a cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Jimmie’s Texas Blues”), recorded live with a single microphone, direct-to-lacquer, at a studio in Bristol, Virginia. If you saw last year’s superb American Epic documentary series about the birth of American roots music recording in the late 1920s, you’ll recall that the early sides by the Carter Family and others were recorded—also in Bristol—in much the same way: a method that fits Easton’s songs beautifully and lends the entire project a palpable intimacy and intensity.
You can get a sense of the vibe and themes on the album from some of the titles: “Never Punch the Clock Again,” “Elmore James” (in which Easton laments that in today’s music “these drum machines all sound the same”), “Broken Hearted Man,” “Traveling Days,” “Another Good Man Down” (a cautionary tale about cocaine), and “California Bars” (his previous album had a song called “Alaskan Bars, Part 1”). And then there’s “Jesus Protect Me”—not quite a religious plea, it turns out, but “Protect me from your followers/Not all of them/Just the ones who turn love into fear and hatred.”
There’s plenty of variety to Easton’s deft guitar work—from understated slide, to fluid Doc Watson–style runs, to gritty blues and deceptively simple-sounding folk-picking. At just over half an hour, you’re in and out of this record pretty quickly, but it’s amazing how far Easton travels and how much emotional terrain he covers over the course of this remarkable musical journey.
This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.