Tim Easton – Keep on movin’
Yes, Easton felt some butterflies. “The night before I was about to go into the studio, I was kind of in disbelief that I was going to play with great musicians,” he says. “But the minute it started, we got along and got the job done.”
Most of Break Your Mother’s Heart went to tape that first week, followed by a week of overdubs and a week of mixing. (The Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell came in later to add more guitar color to the song “Black Hearted Ways”.) “I knew that with those kinds of musicians, basically you were gonna get them in there and present the song, maybe even play just about half of the song, and then go for it,” he says. “Roll tape and record a take or two.”
Easton credits Keltner, if in presence alone, for helping keeping the stress level down. A man of countless stories can do that. One tale Easton recalled was when Keltner pointed out a spot at Cherokee where “John” had once vomited. “John Prine? John Hiatt?” Easton wondered, knowing that Keltner had worked with both. “No,” he says, “THE John.” As in Lennon.
“With a guy like that,” Easton says, “the stories are top, and you can’t help but sit there in your bazillion-dollar-a-day-studio with your bazillion-dollar-a-day studio musicians and waste plenty of time listening to him tell a story about John Lennon.”
Keltner, in turn, had no difficulty finding his own motivation heading into the sessions. “When you hear his songs, you realize that he’s a serious songwriter,” Keltner says. Once the tape was rolled, Keltner recalls Easton as “very exuberant and very lively. He put a lot of life into his playing. When they say you mean every note that you play? He’s one of those kind of guys. His playing matches his songwriting. It’s very intense.”
Further, Keltner says, Easton was no less impressive in his newfound producer role. “He was full of confidence; I don’t recall him being reticent in any way. I remember having a really good time with him in the studio. When it was over, I’d wished that we had been able to have the luxury of coming back after he’d written a few more.”
Hanlon was equally impressed. “Tim has a real good ability to wear different hats,” he says. “He’s not afraid to make mistakes, not afraid to push himself. He’ll go for it in the studio, which to me is the mark of a really great artist. They’re not afraid to fall on their faces. That’s something that I find really refreshing. That to me is also the way Neil Young works a lot. He takes chances constantly. He’s always challenging himself by going left or right. I find that Tim works a lot like that.”
Easton was pleased with the outcome. “I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, as far as live recording and singing with the band,” he says. “I like the sound and feel of my voice on this one. I mean, I don’t know if you can ever be 100 percent happy with what you do, and of course there’s maybe a couple notes that I hit here and there that are questionable — but the feel is there.”
Break Your Mother’s Heart began taking shape in Oaxaca, Mexico, in late 2001. Easton had hunkered down in the southern Mexican state for an extended stay, partly to continue his longstanding love affair with Latin America — he’s traveled there since as far back as high school. And he wrote songs — including the weary “Amor Azul” and the edgy, oddly anthemic “Poor Poor LA”, which would become the album’s opening track. The core of many other songs emerged south of the border as well.
Oaxaca’s laid-back vibe helped Easton focus, particularly in the aftermath of September 11. Among the most indelible experiences was observing a local posada, a Christmas tradition in which townspeople parade with giant homemade puppets. “Sometimes they’d make Mary or Joseph or Jesus, or the three wise men,” Easton says. “I saw a 12-foot Bart Simpson dancing next to a 15-foot Osama Bin Laden, and it was just like…I was rendered speechless. I followed that posada many miles, getting hot cider at the churches every couple of miles, all through the night until dawn.”
Not that such political or cultural references overtly snake their way into much of Break Your Mother’s Heart. The aforementioned “Poor Poor LA” does take a colorful look at Easton’s perpetually unsettled former residence with rapid-fire stream-of-consciousness imagery akin to a Dylan. The album’s second track, the jangling “Black Hearted Ways”, is a don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out ode to an unknown character that Easton has since fantasized to be President Bush: In his self-penned notes to the media regarding the album, Easton wrote, “I hope to sing this one at the White House as the changing of the guard takes place.”
Still, Break Your Mother’s Heart mostly consists of small, melodic tunes of introspection and spirit, cloaked in Easton’s pleasant, worn-beyond-his-years voice. At its core are several songs as gorgeous as they are melancholic, including the lilting goodbye “Hanging Tree” and the two-chord pop tune “Hummingbird”, a song of emotional departure punctuated by Easton’s own harmonies that practically lift you to the sky.