Tim Easton

Call it roots rock, altcountry, or simply Americana; applied to a particular breed of today's singer-songwriters and cutting-edge combos, those labels describe a freewheeling form of American music. In its purest sense, it's a synthesis of styles, one that retains the exhilaration of rock and roll, combined with the soulful sentiments of folk and country.

That would be the route taken by Tim Easton, an artist who hails from Ohio but whose musical journey has taken him to Paris, London, Dublin, Nashville and eventually Chicago, where he recorded The Truth About Us, his sophomore sojourn. Easton is most adept at creating beguiling ballads and filling them with heavy doses of atmosphere, an approach helped along by the project's producer, Joe Chiccarelli, who also has taken the helm for efforts by U2, Beck, and the Bangles. The professional polish also reflects a superb studio back-up band, one that includes luminaries such as Victoria Williams and Mark Olson of the Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers, as well as most of the members of Wilco, all veteran roots-rock regulars.

Still anyone in search of quick comparisons will likely first notice Easton's distinct Dylanesque drawl -- Jakob's, not Bob's, mind you -- especially evident on songs such as "I Would Have Married You," a pretty Wallflowers-like waltz, and the instantly affecting "Get Some Lonesome." His occasional penchant for Tom Pettyness also is obvious, especially when it comes to the darkly defiant "When the Lights Went Out" and a jangly rocker appropriately titled "Happy Now," which offers the album's catchiest chorus and most rousing refrain. Mostly though, Easton's tone is soft and subdued, a plaintive perspective owing to the album's ethereal arrangements, with its supple overlays of pedal- steel guitar, harmonica, violins, tape loops, and backward guitar effects, all in addition to the standard acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums. They create surreal soundscapes, especially in "Half a Day" and "Carry Me," songs that suggest the nocturnal narratives of artists like Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake.

Despite these varied points of reference, this album marks Tim Easton as a musician imbued with his own passion and purpose. His contemplative compositions take hold via mesmerizing melodies and lyrics that convey a seasoned yet sensitive view of love and longing. That's what makes The Truth About Us so revealing.

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Lee Zimmerman