From the subway vocal echo to the scrappy acoustic settings, Tim Easton's fourth album draws a back-to-busking baseline, as informal as his first album Special 20, and as lyrically blunt as anything he's ventured. Easton recorded episodically and itinerantly, in Cleveland, Minneapolis, Alaska and Joshua Tree, getting assistance from Tom Waits' engineer Mark Howard and erstwhile Jayhawks leader Gary Louris, as well as harmonies from Tift Merritt and Lucinda Williams, guitar from Doug Pettibone, and percussion from Don Heffington. But this isn't a name-check album; the sound is uncalculated and bracing in its diffidence. Lyrically, his mood is bittersweetly critical and restive, even alienated at times. "Oh people, I'm not coming along with you," he sings to an audience with whom a harmonica-racked troubadour is duty bound to connect. The opening "Black Dog" is as darkly suggestive as the Nick Drake song of the same name, while "Back To The Pain" tells of a woman addicted to abuse, and "I Wish You Well" just drips irony: "She came all the way to California just to watch me fail." "I know he's lying 'cause his lips are still moving," Easton sings on "News Blackout", an anti-Bush, pro-Dylan blues; "I know I know 'cause I used to be just like him." In "Dear Old Song And Dance" a catalogue of drugs and intoxicants nearly curdles into self-parody, but is saved by a hint of charm: "Alaskan girls will kick your ass with northern lights and southern comfort." But the most cutting of these songs is "J.P.M.F.Y.F.", which translates as "Jesus Protect Me From Your Followers" -- a declaration he quickly qualifies by adding, "Not all of them, just the ones who turn love into fear and hatred." Whether personal or public in his expressions, Easton has done what good writers and singers always do: give voice to what most genuinely needs voicing.