Tim Easton steps up in a big way on The Truth About Us. Backed by an impressive cast that includes three-fourths of Wilco, Mark Olson and Victoria Williams, Easton fully delivers on the promise of his 1998 solo debut Special 20.
Easton's move from his native Ohio to Los Angeles provides a fertile source of material for this eleven-song cycle (two of them covers penned by J.P. Olsen). It starts off rather pleasantly with an easy waltz ("Half A Day") and a gentle folk song that recalls vintage Simon & Garfunkel ("Carry Me"). But things heat up on the next two tracks, "Downtown Lights" and "Get Some Lonesome", and the record takes off from there with one reward after another, particularly on repeated listenings.
Easton says he wrote "Downtown Lights" shortly after moving into his L.A. apartment, though it's a stark prison song. Welcome to life in the hard city. It features some greasy, other-side-of-the-tracks slide guitar by Easton, complemented by Jay Bennett on electric guitar. Next is "Get Some Lonesome", a very sad, pretty tune with a hushed vocal that conveys more between the lines than the words themselves ("He's just a shadow but he wants to be real") .
The album is a cohesive whole, though the songs vary from gorgeous country ballads ("I Would Have Married You") to jangly pop ("Are You Happy Now") to shuffles ("Soup Can Telephone Game Conversation") to almost alt-rock ("When The Lights Went Out"). The subtle noise Easton and Wilco throw into the mix keeps the record attractively off-kilter, serving the seriousness and literary smarts of the songs well.
"Are You Happy Now" might be the catchiest song on the record, though also the darkest (which is saying something). The second verse begins: "Young man on the roof took his life today/And he left his parents' Bible inside anyway." Easton claims this really happened. He found a Bible in a drawer in his new L.A. apartment, which became available to him when the previous tenant committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the building. Easton turns this nightmare into a gripping song, cloaked in an irresistible 12-string Rickenbacker guitar hook by Jay Bennett that would make Roger McGuinn proud.
Easton's voice is rather limited in range and power, but he has a very appealing tone, and gets an amazing amount of feeling into every syllable without strain or phony phrasing. There is an unmistakable honesty and intimacy to his singing that just seems to flow effortlessly. This is a self-assured record; you get the sense that the artist, musicians and producer (Joe Chiccarelli) knew they were onto something special.