Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
“If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” sings Tim Easton on his follow-up to 2018’s similarly solo acoustic Paco & the Melodic Polaroids. That sentiment seems to be the singer-songwriter’s rallying cry ever since he was busking in the streets more than 20 years ago. He has never stopped, playing solo or with bands, releasing four excellent albums for New West along the way (this is his tenth) and more recently taking the fully independent path. While Exposition doesn’t go the direct-to-cutting-machine route of his previous vinyl-only release, it’s a powerful set of songs, recorded in three different cities while maintaining a consistent feel.
The lyrically varied set has Easton exploring concepts as disparate and personal as looking at why his marriage failed (on the Petty-styled “New Year’s Day”), the aftermath of 9/11 (the appropriately titled, finger-picked “Exploding Buildings”) and trying to ignore the political negativity of the day (“nobody wants to wake up angry he says in “Peace of Mind”). His instrumentation is all acoustic but instead of the live-to-vinyl Paco … approach, he overdubs subtle percussion, harmony vocals, and piano to flesh out the sound.
Easton gets political, embracing resistance on “Don’t Spectate, Participate,” urging us to become part of the process if only to vote (“If you won’t give a damn, it’s a damn shame”) and goes story song on the pure folk of “Sail On Sailors” (unrelated to the Beach Boys hit), praising the titular travelers and using their existence as an analogy to everyone’s life (“Sail away sailors, follow your stars/ when there are cloudy skies follow your heart”). The intimacy of one man and a guitar is on display often in these ten tunes, most effectively on “Broken Brain” where Easton recounts some of his life’s events — name checking Todd Snider in the process — while blaming the damaged organ for a few of his more troubling issues.
Easton’s inviting, distinctive vocals are similar to those of fellow folk-rock road warrior Peter Case. Both artists sell songs just by singing them, infusing hot and cool emotion into every verse. Whether Easton will return to a more electric, band-oriented format is hard to say, but the stripped-down sound he has gravitated to of late displays his talents without distraction and underlines how the symbiotic combination of guitar and voice is all journeyman artists like him need to captivate and entrance listeners.