Angela Easterling started to talk about her new album Common Law Wife when she recalled a journalist’s recent question. “He asked how did you come up with such a classic country song?’ I said, ‘Well it’s basically my life.” I guess I’m living a classic country song. And I guess Brandon and I are living in sin.”
Easterling was recounting this along with her life and musical partner Brandon Turner on Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale’s weekly radio show, The Buddy & Jim Show, on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country.
Easterling and guitarist Turner were on tour when they learned that they were going to have a child. Their son’s now two and a half years old. Easterling was saying how blessed she feels to have her family and partnership with Turner and the songs on her new album are a celebration of that.
The title track pokes fun at the series of real-life events including her own unknowing about the birds and the bees. In the song, the singer says she is too busy changing diapers to walk down the aisle. In “Little Lights,” she explores how having a little one on the way threw the two for a loop. What was once a situation in which she doubted she could pursue her musical dream is now a fuller life.
“I feel,” she says, “like I got it all.”
In 2000, Easterling moved from her native South Carolina to Los Angeles in hopes of launching her musical career. Ironically it was in California where she discovered country music. She developed somewhat of an obsession with Emmylou Harris and would pore over the album credits looking at the names of the musicians. When she moved back home in 2007, she saw that a woman named Fayssoux Starling McLean was playing in Spartanburg. The name was similar to that of a singer on many of Harris’ records including Luxury Liner, Quarter Moon In a Ten Cent Town, Luxury Liner and Pieces of the Sky.
“I thought to myself, ‘How many women are there named Fayssoux’?”
Lauderdale answers back: “One.”
When Easterling went to the show, McLean was accompanied by a guitar player by the name of Brandon Turner. Easterling introduced herself and over the next few years, tried to get Turner to play with her on a few occasions.
“You did more than just playing,” Miller chimes in.
“I tell people I fell in love with more than his picking,” Easterling replies. “Sometimes I think if you have musical chemistry, you might have other chemistry as well.”
During the radio show, Turner played guitar though his 1964 Princeton amplifier through which all of the guitars on Common Law Wife were heard. Turner, who does a stunning acoustic version of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game with McLean, was influenced by the British guitar greats and someone close to home. He was the late Toy Caldwell, the leader of the Marshall Tucker Band in Spartanburg. Like Caldwell, Turner uses his thumb in place of a guitar pick.
Easterling’s musical career didn’t really get started until she was in college. She went to Emerson University in Boston and graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in performing. She had performed in community theater and chorus growing up and even tried clarinet, which she regrets having given up at the age of eleven. Easterling admits she didn’t have the most patience waiting for auditions, and that recognition spurred her to seek out playing music. “I just wanted to get up and perform so I got a guitar and started writing songs and singing.” Easterling says, recalling how she went to open mic nights and remembers being terrified her name would be called. Another person that was in the club those nights was the singer Mary Gauthier.
Flash forward to 2015, Easterling talk about her transformation then and now. While looking at pictures of herself from college, she remembered feeling so old looking and weary with things. “I wanted to know why I didn’t have more fun then.” The self-examination inspired the song “Table Rock,” something named after a nearby park in the Western Carolinas. “The song is about how I think you can have more fun as you get older.”
Easterling’s return to South Carolina, marked by the release of her first album Earning Your Wings, has influenced her work in other ways. The song “Hammer” was inspired by her grandfather who built the house he lived in on the family’s farm. She describes him as the hardest working person she’s ever known. Easterling connects the generations when she sings about the land being her father’s and her son’s. She conjures beautiful imagery describing of the heat of summer and all of its beauty, pleasure and pain it brings–and the hammer in her grandfather’s hand “‘till day is done.”
Easterling says she wrote “The Mountain” on a day she was discouraged about the music business. “My dad says I get to eat chicken one day and feathers the next,” she recalls of a life lesson. “I think this was one of those days. I was just looking for some encouragement which led to the song.”
Her song “Throwing Strikes” on the new album was inspired by her love of baseball. Growing up an Atlanta Braves fan in a football region, Easterling’s passion for baseball was rekindled in Boston. During her freshman year, she lived within walking distance to Fenway Park. She wanted to write a song about the decline of the textile mills near where she grew up and the empty former factory buildings. But she didn’t know how to do it until she came up with a baseball angle.
In Greenville, there is a Red Sox minor league team and she and Turner find it’s one of their favorite pastimes taking their little boy to games when they’re not playing.
Easterling finds that you can come home and that Greenville is a great place to live and come back to. She is fortunate to have extended family on both her and Turner’s sides. She mentions that they haven’t had to pay for a babysitter yet. For touring, the airport is accessible and more importantly they can often have the opportunity to play locally. When Lauderdale mentions that there is a great place to play called Grits and Groceries, Easterling is quick to respond that she has played there and is in regular touch with Heidi, one of the owners. “If it’s a Thursday or Saturday night and I don’t have a gig, I’ll check with Heidi to see if I can play.”
Lauderdale tells her to say hi but then realizes since they listen to the show, he can say hello himself. But the mention of their famous tomato pies make him ask Easterling to stop because he’s getting hungry.
Lauderdale then can’t hide his enthusiasm and regard for his guests. “Y’all are like the shining example when they talk about Americana. You are the perfect fit, doing it from your home base in South Carolina, I respect that so much. I want people to get this album and see you live.”
Humbled by the praise, Easterling responds: “I’ll take that and put it in my pocket for a bad day.”
Easterling says she feels lucky to live in the area and be able to get a bar gig and play original music, especially with a child at home. “We can still be working musicians and stay close to home.”
Easterling and Turner are embarking on a series of dates which will take them across the country to California. Turner is about to play at Club Zero in Spartanburg, opening up for Billy Bob Thornton and his band in a country blues trio. He will also join Fayssoux Starling McLean at several shows in October.
Miller mentions that Lauderdale can legally perform wedding ceremonies. But given that might ruin the songs and tour, he suggests waiting until the next album.
Someone suggests calling it We Made It Legal.
Or, as Lauderdale suggests, The Honeymoon’s Begun.