Not too long ago, Angela Easterling was just one of the countless singer-songwriters thousands of miles away from home, trying to forge a music career in Los Angeles.
While her story might not be as miserable as the cliché suggests — she fondly mentions the tight-knit Americana music scene that she found there — it just didn’t fit.
Angela Easterling and The Beguilers
What fit was her family farm and the rich musical heritage in the Upstate of South Carolina, and Easterling has never looked back. Beguiler, her third full-length set to be released July 19, is proof positive that she made the right decision.
Beguiler is a diverse and spirited re-imagination of the classic country-rock of the early 1970s, the best of which effortlessly blends folk, pop, country, and folk behind the singularly beautiful, lilting vocals and ever-sharpening songwriting prowess of a budding talent. It was her collaboration with producer Will Kimbrough, a famed producer and session man who has spent time collaborating with, among others, Emmylou Harris, Todd Snider and Tommy Womack.
While Easterling is primarily known as a singer-songwriter on the folk circuit, she has produced an astonishingly diverse collection of songs for her new album.
Beguiler moves from buoyant folk to smart country-pop before tackling folk ballads, classic country-rock, and Neil Young-style guitar throwdowns.
“I try to write songs that sound different from one another,” she explains. “Those are the kind of records I like, and I just tried to make a record that I would want to listen to.”
Almost as important as that modus operandi is that the new recording is the first she has made with her backing band The Beguilers, which features fellow South Carolinians Jeff Hook on drums and Brandon Turner on guitar. Easterling sounds positively giddy when discussing her band, crediting them with “inspiring her to write these [new] songs.”
The need for the band was somewhat pragmatic — Easterling had begun playing outdoor regional festivals and wanted a bit more sonic heft — but the serendipitous results are powerfully evident. Turner, a young, hotshot guitarist already well-established as a session musician and sideman to Fayssoux McLean and Freddie Vanderford, and Hook, another established player in the Spartanburg scene, brought not only the musical acumen to “bring all these different [stylistic] things that I wanted to do together,” as Easterling says, but also the “kind of magical thing that sometimes happens. They just got the songs.”
As for her collaborations with Kimbrough, Easterling had been a long-time fan and
knew his reputation as a producer, so she emailed him out of the blue.
“To my surprise, he emailed me back the next day,” she laughs.
She describes her relationship with the musician and producer as an easygoing one.
“He’s so creative, so open to trying to new things,” she says. He also “plays so many different instruments, it makes recording easy because he can just go in and play the part we are talking about.”
In addition to various guitar parts, Kimbrough also adds mandolin, organ, accordion, piano, harmonica and banjo to the recording. The part Easterling remembers the most, though, is the guitar duel that closes the tune “Group Self-Deception.” While she is careful to emphasize that Turner and Kimbrough were actually great collaborators rather than competitive guitar aces, this particular moment emphasized their “similar approaches, but different [musical] ideas” she says. The tune, the most rocking on the album, finishes with the two trading virtuosic licks in something akin to one of The Allman Brothers’ extended jams.
“It was like watching a tennis match go back and forth,” Easterling recalls. “It was all I could do to remember to keep playing!”
Another special moment occurs on “Anchored in Love,” where Easterling is joined on vocals by both Fayssoux McLean and Hannah Miller. The song, rife with emotion and longing, is also a particularly fitting close to the record, since the singers remind us, as the music itself does, of the powerful past and ripe potential of South Carolina’s musical history.