'Common Law Wife'
Former Angeleno Angela Easterling returns to town for some album release shows, including a Tuesday showcase at Matt Denny’sBy Bliss Bowen
Life rarely unfolds according to plan — a truism at the heart of Angela Easterling’s fifth album, “Common Law Wife.” The native South Carolinian, who pursued better performance opportunities in her home state after several years of banging her head against the brick walls of LA’s club scene, returns next week for a handful of shows and a taping of Joe Armstrong’s “Independent’s Day” podcast.
Gone are the Hollywood days when the struggling Americana artist paid her band with homemade cookies. Having reluctantly returned to the musically fertile region around Greenville, she performs regularly and resides in a house built by her grandfather on a nearly 80-acre farm, along with her guitarist/producer Brandon Turner and their 2-year-old son, Harrison. Easterling’s aunt and uncle also live on the property, as do 20-some cows that occasionally cause a ruckus.
“It’s a nice place for a little boy to grow up, I think,” Easterling says. “I hope. We’ve had to fight to keep this a farm, because our area is growing so much that people want to build houses. They’re building a grocery store across the street from us. Our cows got out this summer [laughs] and got in people’s yards, and Brandon had to go out there and round them up.”
When she returned to the state she’d hated as a child, Easterling expected to “just sit in the house and be miserable and write songs all day and tour and get a lot of work done.” Ambitious and driven, she toured often, made four albums in six years — and happily discovered that demographic changes had diversified the area. But its underlying “cultural conservatism” still gives her “something to rub up against.”
That occasionally results in material like “Isaac Woodard’s Eyes,” a gently fingerpicked ballad about the African-American World War II veteran who, while still in uniform, was brutally attacked and blinded by South Carolina police officers hours after his honorable discharge from the Army in 1946.
“It was actually one of the things that made Harry Truman want to desegregate the military and pass some civil rights legislation,” Easterling explains. “I wanted people to know about what happened to him.”
“Little Lights” poignantly voices maternal anxieties: “Deep within beats a heart not my own/ Though it feeds on my body, my blood and my bones/ Will it swallow the dream I’ve chased all these years?/ Will I disappear?”
Now expecting another child in February, Easterling has made peace with those fears.
“Being here on the farm and having family nearby — that’s a good resource,” she acknowledges. “When Harrison was on the way, I didn’t know if I’d get to keep playing music at all. It’s been a really nice surprise for me that I’ve been able to continue doing this for a living.” n