The album opens with “California,” and in the first line she tells us she has left the Golden State “on the loneliest night.” There is certainly an amount of sadness in her delivery, but as the song continues, and the drums kick in, she seems to become stronger, as if the farther she gets away from what she’s leaving, the better she feels about it. And as the song progresses, we learn that much time has passed since that night, that she is looking back at her decision after many years. “Now everything has changed/I’ve got a husband and a child.” Yet is there a hint of regret in her voice? She follows those lines by revealing, “But some nights I still dream/I’m out in California running wild.” And there is more joy in those lines than in the other lyrics. That’s followed by “Home.” I’ve said this before, but I’ve never heard a bad song titled “Home.” I keep meaning to create a mix CD made up of only songs with that title. There are a lot of excellent ones, by folks like Ellis Paul, The Evangenitals and James Houlahan. Well, we can add Angela Easterling’s “Home” to that list. “It’s so simple, yet it’s so profound/But when life tosses me around/It’s the anchor of my heart/It’s where my memories start.” She delivers a beautiful and moving vocal performance, and this track also features some nice work on guitar.
Angela Easterling then turns to the blues with “Little Boy Blues,” which features some good guitar work and a strong rhythm. “My heart is growing weary/I’m in this world of man/Memories still haunt me/And now I don’t know where I stand.” This song is from a mother’s perspective, pondering her son’s future. Scott Stinson plays drums on this track. That’s followed by “Halfway Down,” one of the album’s best tracks. It begins cheerfully, deceptively cheerfully. A cheerful country number. The first clue that something more serious is going on is this line: “I hear my children laughing – no, they ain’t seen the news.” This song addresses the gun problem in this country, which is just getting worse and worse. No one is doing anything about it, except offering condolences, speeches and prayers. “Another man, another gun, American as pie/Nothing ever changes, no one’s asking why/We offer up our thoughts and prayers.” Thoughts and prayers do precisely nothing, of course. Last year there were more than six hundred mass shootings in this country. Guns are the problem, which is obvious to anyone whose eyes are even partially open. And until serious gun legislation is enacted, these shootings are going to continue. This song is in part about how we’ve come to accept these shootings as part of our national landscape.
The music turns more fun with “Keep Your Head Down, Johnny,” which is delivered at a fast pace, and is more in the bluegrass vein. Yet the lyrics don’t offer that same sense of fun. Here are the opening lines: “There ain’t no kindness in this life for a woman/I know the lord must be a man/For all the fear and the pain and the sorrow/He laid it down in her hand.” Ted Lucktenberg plays mandolin on this track, and David Rice is on fiddle. Both deliver some wonderful work. There is also an excellent guitar lead in the middle, and another delicious instrumental section at the end. Fayssoux Starling McLean and Ian Guthrie provide backing vocals on this one. That’s followed by “Middle-Age Dream.” The first lines make me smile: “When I turned 40, I went back to college/With some kids who’d never heard of Kurt Cobain.” I work with some people who are quite a bit younger than me, and it no longer surprises me when they have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about when I mention a song or artist that means a whole lot to me and others around my age. This song is about pursuing dreams nonetheless, and so it has a positive bent, and an undeniable cheer to her vocal performance. “Put my hope in every song I’ve ever sung.”
The title track, “Witness,” has a strong energy. This one is about living, continuing, persevering, but the opening lines hit me kind of hard: “I always thought I’d be the one to leave you/In the morning, without a word/I never meant to disappoint or grieve you/You’ve been gone for years, there’s not a day it don’t hurt.” This track features some good work on electric guitar. And this line stands out: “I don’t have to be right, I don’t have to be strong.” Something to think about. That is followed by the only cover on the album, Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos),” a song that sadly is still pertinent. Just look at the current attitudes toward migrants in this country, and the way migrants have been treated in the past few years by bastards like Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis. Angela Easterling does an excellent job with this song, turning in an earnest performance. Scott Stinson plays drums on this track.
In “Hero,” Angela Easterling sings about unsung role models. In the time of the pandemic, many people who previously might not had been given much thought were recognized. The pandemic changed who people thought of as heroes. “This world might never know your name/Or sing your praise, or bring you fame/But that ain’t what you’re workin’ for/You know the truth, it’s so much more.” Then in “Have You Seen My Friend?” she sings, “She’s real rough around the edges/She’s been banged up in the ditches/But she’s my friend, my real good friend.” That’s followed by “Baby Bird,” a pretty song that features some nice work by Ted Lucktenberg on cello. As it begins, it seems to be simply about an actual bird nest. But you get the sense there is something more behind her interest in the baby birds, and soon she is singing about her own children, with the knowledge that they too will leave. It is only late in the song that we learn the pain behind these lines, that the song is actually about a miscarriage. “I never held you in my arms, but I still see you in my dreams.” The album concludes with “Grow Old,” which is about a desire to be there to see her child age. “I wanna know how your life unfolds/I wanna see you grow old.” And this line is striking: “Someday your troubles will outgrow me.”
CD Track List
- Little Boy Blues
- Halfway Down
- Keep Your Head Down, Johnny
- Middle-Age Dream
- Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)
- Have You Seen My Friend?
- Baby Bird
- Grow Old
Witness was released on October 28, 2022.