You know the sad and familiar tale: Brilliant local musician trudges on with great work, other local musicians nod knowingly and with respect at the mention of his name, yet said talent hasn't yet attracted the frothing fan base he deserves. No doubt Reed Easterwood knows the words to that story by heart. Yet his songs seem to occupy a more precious place, a place of the past (and ideal future) that recognizes the craftiness and craftsmanship of a song turned out by a guy whose technical prowess never gets in the way of the music. He's got the hooks and the chops and the irony, only he prefers to entertain his own ears and those of people who understand such musical intelligence. Easterwood is the kind of songwriter who long ago recognized the treachery of both Dallas fickleness and Big Industry rottenness, and chose to lope off into his own sunset.
After plugging away at both solo and collaborative music projects for the better part of the decade, Easterwood has an output prolific enough to raise the question "You mean he's putting out another record?" And in listening to his latest outing, Secret Power (of You), you'll see that Easterwood's disassociation from trend or expectations seems more potently realized than ever. The full-length self-release (half solo project, half with Easterwood's band, Junky Southern) ups the ante on his moody, dreamy pop while leaving in place the foundations of twang and blues found on last year's Absolute Blue. In other words, Secret Power is ambitious, immensely listenable, and in constant flirtation with unexpected bliss. Just when you think a song might shatter to the ground in a mess of confused intentions, he hoists it up to the most innovative, victorious resolution. Brilliant.
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Wearing his lifelong Stones admiration like a disarming badge of honor, the album's opener "Lay Me Down" and "Act Your Age" lay bare the scruffy, punchy melancholy of classic-definition rock. But other than that, Secret Power's twelve selections are virtually uncategorizable, unless that happens to be one of the categories. His voice is wispy enough to waft through any kind of tune yet raspy and knowing enough to lend heft to his dreamer-cynic wordplay. Easterwood always lets the process serve the individual song -- heavy retro reverb here, adventurous lo-fi there, haunting folk gut-wrench and big-rawk rebellion in between. "Prodigal son(g)" takes an old gospel sound with traditional harmonies into a new arena of secular bastardization, while the compressed, riff-laden "ellausegeS (Deus ex Machina)" goes where Johnny Marr might if he liked psychedelic back-masking and Sentridoh. "For Bill Hicks," meanwhile, is a unswerving dirge-homage to a lost talent. All of the songs spin in their disparate spheres, but Easterwood's aesthetic undercurrent ties them together. Let's just hope he reaches a larger and much deserved audience this time out.