Besides, when Easton comes to town, he will do so alone. The guests have departed, leaving the host to carry his own weight on this tour, and so the Akron-raised, L.A.-based singer-songwriter will stand on the Sons' stage holding only his guitar and the hope that he can find an audience interested in hearing his songs about people in such pain all they can do is drop to their knees and cry, cry, cry (happens twice out of 11 songs). Easton falls somewhere between Steve Earle and, oh, labelmate Brent Best (Slobberbone is also signed to New West) as a singer and, for that matter, a songwriter: All three like to write about pain, regret, guilt, and, well, regret, and they sound as though they were born to the same father (John Prine, without the politics) and raised in the same crib with Jeff Tweedy, but of course. Easton's less country than Earle and less crocked than Best (or at least his characters, most of whom are blessed/cursed with a whiskey-glass eye); he's pop-folk, for lack of a better description, in the middle of the road with the white lines and road kill. No doubt, that's why Chiccarelli rounded up Wilco for the chore of backing up Easton on The Truth About Us: If Tweedy's the heart of the operation, then Bennett's the soul, a guy who could rewire a Flatt and Scruggs sound until it sounded like "So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star."
But it all comes down to Easton's songs--most of which were birthed as solo-acoustic numbers on Fourteen in One, a recent collection of demos--and they hardly need to be propped up by session men. From the very get-go, they hit you in the heart and keep pounding away, till you can't tell the beating from the pummeling. At album's opening, Easton finds himself missing his girl, quite literally: They cross paths but never connect, as she's off with "the other man" while he sits waiting for those precious few seconds they might, but don't, spend together. "I'll never miss you again," he moans, leaving you to wonder if he's there for good, or she's gone forever. Like heroes Randy Newman and Townes Van Zandt, Easton writes so convincingly you can't separate author from narrator; his songs feel real, tangible, palpable, as though the heartbreak's your own and not simply on loan. You want him to be a better man ("Get Some Lonesome"), aren't surprised when he isn't ("I Would Have Married You"), and root for him to make good on his promise at album's end to grow up and act like a man ("Don't Walk Alone"). The words are good enough to render the music background whispers ("She started it up and stepped down on the pedal like it was his heart"), the music's good enough to render the words painful instead of merely poignant, and the whole package makes you wonder how damned hard it is to sing these songs every night.