March 2001

Tim Easton - The Truth About Us
New West NW6023
Released: 2001

by Marc Rigrodsky

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment *****

[Reviewed on CD]Why is unhappy, strange music so much more interesting than the homogenized, lovey-dovey stuff? Why do I want the bad guy to win sometimes? Judging from the sales charts, most of us want the numbing comfort of the predictable, the tame, the myth of happiness ever after. Not me. Misery loves company, and I want my entertainment to be my traveling companion on the road to oblivion. It’s so much more relevant that way.

Tim Easton is a guy who appeals directly to my soul. On The Truth About Us, he serves up angst aplenty, on a bed of, with sides of folk, blues, rock, even Byrdsian jangle, topped by his flat, monotone voice. His relationships are sour and unsatisfactory; his world a non-stop source of dissonance, violence, and confusion. He sounds like Bob Dylan on downers. This is richly mined territory, true, but where others have burned with pain, Easton smolders. Don’t label Easton as a whiner. He doesn’t scream his despair from the rooftops. Rather, he emotes through a series of quirky snapshots of plausibly real life.

Easton sets the mood on the opening lines of the first track, "Half a Day," when he asks an apparently unfaithful lover, "Why’d you have to come to town when I’m gone/You could have picked a better day then when I’m away." Things barrel downhill to the chorus, "This feels like the night my plane goes down/Twenty minutes later your train gets to town." Not exactly the feel-good hit of the year. Nor is "Happy Now," where Easton declares "Young man on the roof took his life today/And he left his parents bible inside anyway/He wanted them to miss him as part of the plan/But nobody ever gave a damn/Are you happy now?" In fact, it’s a heavyweight contender for the feel-bad hit of the year. Vying for that title is "Missing four days yet no one cared why/There was nothing left but your last day/You laid down alone and you died that way" from "When the Lights Went Out." Destruction, of self or others, of things or relationships, is a common theme in The Truth About Us.

Easton, who wrote most of the songs on The Truth About Us, is backed by Ken Coomer, John Sirratt, and Jay Bennett, all members of kings Wilco. They give a professional shine to Easton’s world-weary voice and limited range on acoustic guitar. In particular, Bennett’s keyboards lend many of the songs an ethereal, airy feel, as if he’s trying to counteract the effect of the black-hole lyrics and vocals. This gives the material a balance that might otherwise send even the most centered listener screaming to the nearest psychiatric ward. His electric guitars also give many of the songs a jolt of shock therapy. The overall recording quality is about average; the tracks are not overloaded with instrumentation or layers of vocals, so the mix should be crisper.

The Truth About Us probably should be avoided by the overwrought and those persons susceptible to suggestion. Shiny, happy people also should not apply. But Easton feels my pain, and I his. We’ll be friends for awhile.