Tim Easton,
(New West, 2006)

Maybe it's just me, but any time I hear a young folk-rock singer-songwriter whom I like, I can't help thinking he -- and I mean "he" (if I meant "she," I'd think Lucinda Williams, who actually does some harmony singing here) -- reminds me a little of either Bob Dylan or Richard Thompson. Tim Easton reminds me of both, minus either's brand of blisteringly caustic lyrics.

Not that Easton can't be caustic. It's just that his variety won't slash your flesh or blow you out of the room. Instead, it arrives flavored as resignation leavened with mordant wit, as in the couplet that I'm sure will be the favorite of everybody who hears Ammunition: "She came all the way to Californ-eye-ay/Just to watch me fail." The song is titled "I Wish You Well," and I like that, too. For all I know, Easton may not even mean it sarcastically.

Ammunition is always engaging and enjoyable, and fear not -- as I feared when I first put it on the player -- Easton ain't one of them sensitive new-age saps. He's tougher than that, and much too funny. "News Blackout" confronts the inevitable Dylan comparisons head-on, with an approach that brazenly apes a 1965, Bringing It All Back Home-era Br'er Bob, even quoting the title of an obscure early protest song, "Playboys & Playgirls," not to be found on any official Dylan release. For all its playfulness, however, "Blackout" turns out to be quite a decent song in its own right. I am forced to note, though, that whoever wrote down the lyrics needs to learn how to spell "steal." Since it happens twice, it's probably not a typo.

Like the mid-1960s Greenwich Village performers who are the obvious prototype for this sort of approach, Easton has a keen topical sensibility, worked to special effect in the mysteriously monikered "J.P.M.F.Y.F." On listening, you quickly learn that stands for "Jesus, Protect Me from Your Followers." Easton hastens to add: "Not all of them/Just the ones who turn love into fear and hatred." The target, hit hard and elegantly (the melody is surprisingly lovely), is the Christian Right, whose intolerance, war fervor and greed for power are hard to square -- at least if you don't subscribe to the Dobson/Robertson/Falwell school of theology -- with the Jesus of the Gospels.

The arrangements are divided between solo (and effectively solo) and small-band settings, affording Easton's strong vocals plenty of room to breathe. All but the last an original ("I Wish You Well" was co-written with Chris Burney), Easton's songs are uniformly well crafted, and you will find your own favorites. Mine are the ones mentioned above. It concludes happily with a reading of the Mississippi Sheiks' standard "Sitting on Top of the World," recorded in just about every genre imaginable but rendered here as a pure acoustic folk song.

by Jerome Clark
24 June 2006

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