If Steve Earle were reborn as a girl, he'd very likely be Angela Easterling. Instead of Guitar Town she has Blacktop Road. She comes surging out of the chute like a well-spurred bronco full of sneaky sideways kicks, bucking with all the compressed energy of a tightly coiled steel spring.
Blacktop Road is Easterling's second solo release. Her first, Earning Her Wings, was named top Americana CD by Smart Choice music. For Blacktop Road Easterling went back to her roots in North Carolina where she wrote most of the material for the album. Then she enlisted producer Will Kimbrough, who brought his special roots sensibilities along with his guitar and mandolin chops to the project. Anyone with a taste for twang will appreciate Kimbrough's judicial use of old-fashioned plate reverb.
Several of the strongest songs on Blacktop Road address Easterling's family history. Their family farm, which was first settled in 1791, was cut in two by a new road that was graciously named after them by the state. The title song examines her less than positive view of the proceedings. Instead of a plaintive wail, the tune rocks with the compressed bile reminiscent of Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road." The only cover, Neil Young's "Helpless," demonstrates Easterling's ability to take even a well-known and often-covered tune and give it her own special and convincing treatment. Neil, eat your heart out...
Other tunes on Blacktop Road such as "The Picture" examine the emotional baggage of being a white Southerner with a less than untarnished family history in the area of race relations. Easterling's ambivalence toward her family's past makes for poignant songwriting. But her penetrating lyrics would be only political polemic without her enticing melodies. Her "Field of Sorrow" draws from a gospel tradition while "One Microphone" uses jug-band swing and swagger to get its point across. Easterling's thorough grounding in traditional melodies and song structures supply her tunes with strong foundations so they sound familiar without being boring.