Paco & the Melodic Polaroids
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Pro-Tools? No way. Overdubbing? Not this time. Multiple microphones? Who needs ‘em? Digital recording? Leave it for the fancy-pants perfectionists. Multiple takes? For sissies only. Stereo? Bah humbug to that too.
Veteran singer-songwriter Tim Easton takes his music back, way back, to its roots for this unusual project, perhaps the ultimate organic process of recording in its purest form. One voice, one guitar, one harmonica, one microphone … along with the occasional foot stomp, all captured real time and transferred directly to a lacquer acetate disc with a portable cutting lathe. The completed album — his 9th solo one — took as long to cut as it does to listen to with its 10 tracks spanning a taut, compact 30 minutes. The fuzzy black and white cover photo reflects the contents within.
Better still, Easton wrote nine new songs for this set, with Jimmie Rodgers’ yodel-enhanced “Jimmie’s Texas Blues” the sole cover. The set’s somewhat clunky title refers to Easton’s long time acoustic guitar, nicknamed Paco, with “melodic polaroids” the resulting tunes. The stripped-down music follows traditional country folk basics, often repeating the opening line twice, propelled not only by Easton’s flat picking/thumb picked guitar but his distinctive dusky voice. Look no further than the opening lyrics to “Elmore James” to summarize his view; “A lot of racket being made in the world today/ these drum machines all sound the same/ I think I hear a song/ mostly just fun and games.”
There’s a spark and immediacy to these performances, invoked both by the recording technique and a clearly inspired Easton. The songs are often travel related, connecting his world wanderings in the company of his trusty acoustic black Gibson J-45 with reflections on moving forward, both physically and philosophically. That’s expressed most openly in “Traveling Days,” an ode to Easton’s road-heavy profession of traveling musician, and “Never Punch the Clock Again,” a seemingly true tale of his life as an itinerant artist, one who has journeyed from his home state of Ohio to his current residence in Nashville.
There are plenty of antecedents to these raw songs. From Bob Dylan’s pre-1965 releases to more recent work by Peter Case and Neil Young, the sound of a folksinger alone with his trusty guitar is a time honored tradition that no amount of high tech gimmicks will ever replace. It’s one that Tim Easton embraces with gusto, passion and a journeyman’s experience for this terrific return to basics venture that feels as honest, inspired and authentic as the way it was recorded.