The songs of Greenville, S.C.-based singer/songwriter Angela Easterling have been lauded by many Americana authorities as some of the best recorded today. Nonetheless, Easterling is not content to stick to any formula despite the acclaim it has elicited. Performing in different formats and languages, her biggest change in the past year was a personal one as Easterling became a first-time mother. The life adjustment along with a relentless touring schedule slowed production on a release initially intended for early this year, but putting off the album has been fortuitous as Easterling says her latest crop of material is her best to date and can now be the focus of her next recording effort.
For her most recent album “Mon Secret,” Easterling took a significant risk, producing a full track list of Francophone Americana. Performing music in the traditional American folk-country style, there was some concern that presenting the songs in French might be deemed “un-Americana” by sticklers, but what the French lyrics amounted to were mellifluous vocals and a welcome change of pace for most followers. Storytelling being a major component of regional folk music, Easterling offers English translations to these songs online.
“ ‘Mon Secret’ was cowritten with my friend Marianne Bessy, a native of Rennes in Bretagne and a professor of French at Furman University,” says Easterling. “It was really just a lark and kind of a side project. I guess that’s why I wasn’t really worried if it would be well-received or not. Of course, I hope people liked it, but I wasn’t going to put a lot of pressure on myself like I would with a major release. Some of my fans love it and say it is their favorite of all my albums and that they hope I record more in French. Some say they like it because they just like listening to the sounds, even if they don’t understand everything. Others aren’t very interested in something they can’t understand. But I didn’t want not understanding the lyrics to stand in their way, which is why I included the translations on my website. I think people get scared and think I’m going to be singing in French for my whole show. Don’t worry — I usually only perform one to three songs in French, just to give folks a taste of it.”
Easterling anticipated a prompt follow-up to “Mon Secret” to be released early this year, but between adapting to motherhood and a grueling, self-booked tour schedule, she was simply stretched too thin for studio work. But to Easterling, consistency and keeping pace are not reasons to hurry a new record. Since giving birth, her change in perspective has refueled her zeal for songwriting, and Easterling says she is most proud of the songs she has written this year. Not hastening the recording effort means she can now be selective, including only the “crème de la crème” for the album she now intends to record this year.
“I was very ambitious last year when I was still pregnant and booked a bunch of tour dates for myself for last fall,” Easterling recalls. “Between all of that touring and the baby, I just didn’t have time to work as much as I would have wanted to on getting my songs together. ... I’m really glad I didn’t rush things, because the songs I’ve been writing so far in 2014, I think, are some of the best I’ve ever written. I’m so happy I didn’t already have an album in the can. We plan to begin recording this August, and my hope is that it will be out maybe early next year.”
Easterling says that the as-yet-untitled album will take a more stripped-down approach than her previous outings, and one assumes her shows leading up to the recordings slated for this year will hone this bare-bones style under solo and duo formats. While Easterling notes that her extended family in South Carolina affords reliable childcare, allowing her to maintain her vigorous out-of-town schedule, it is the recording that will diminish her touring frequency for the remainder of 2014. But following the release, she says she will be back on the road regularly next year with the new album in tow.
“I did tour last year after I had my baby,” says Easterling. “It was really hard to leave him. As a result, I have had to gear my performing closer to home and I’m just not touring far away as much as I used to. That will likely change as he gets older. We’re just learning as we go along. But it is a wonderful thing, and I think the best thing that could have ever happened to me as a person and as a writer. It just gives me a deeper well of understanding to draw from than I had before. It also really puts things in perspective in your life.
“Since most of the shows I play are solo or duo, I wanted to record something that is more reflective of our live shows. I also want to bring the country sound back into it. As far as the lyrics, there are things about my life, motherhood, etc, the changes I’ve been going through, a lot about spirituality and questioning one’s place in the whole scheme of things. I wanted to make sure I included that element because I felt like it may have been missing from my previous work.
Easterling pays a visit to Knoxville this weekend, performing at Barley’s Taproom in Maryville Saturday night. For this gig, Easterling will play in her duo format with Brandon Turner. The free show kicks off at 10 p.m.