Midweek Music Break: Angela Easterling, “La Mer” and “Arkansas Murder Ballad”

Angela Easterling (photo by Jon Holloway)

The geography of country music is solidly, traditionally, and by rights earthbound: deserts, prairies, and mountains, backwoods and farmland, two-lane blacktop and dirt roads, shingled rooftops and unfinished wooden floors. If bodies of water enter the picture at all, they’re features of the landscape: Red River Valley, Cripple Creek…

So encountering a song about the sea by someone allegedly a country performer — sung in French, yet — well, the alarm bells start going off. Surely we’re being toyed with.

But Angela Easterling comes honestly by her country credentials, and even (sorta) by the French connection. She grew up in South Carolina, went to Boston with musical-theater stars in her eyes, and finally came home to the Palmetto State and her family’s farm, to carve out an Americana niche of her own. I’ve very little knowledge of the whole sweep of country music, so I won’t presume to compare her to anyone else specifically. But I do find her voice and music beguiling. (No pun intended — her two-man backup band being known as the Beguilers. More to the point is the title of her 2011 album: Beguiler.)

As for the French connection: I couldn’t imagine why she chose to write and record an entire album, 2012’s Mon Secret, in French. So I was delighted to read this thoughtful summary at her site:

Back in 2009, my friend Marianne Bessy and I started collaborating on writing a handful of songs in French. Not only is Marianne a talented writer, she is also a native of France and an assistant professor of French at Furman University, here in Greenville, SC. She was the perfect person to embark on this project with me. I know many of you are probably wondering “WHY” I would want to record in French. The answer is: I love the French language; I think it is so beautiful. The words flow into one another with a musicality that begs to be sung. I wanted to make this album to celebrate the beauty of that. Singing in another language is such a pleasure. It’s like a different flavor.  Imagine if all you ever ate was spaghetti, wouldn’t you want some tacos or sushi or a steak sometime? To me, language is like that. I think that here in America, we sometimes deny ourselves the joy of experiencing other languages. For me, trying to communicate my ideas in French seemed to open up a whole other part of my brain. It made me think of different ways I could have expressed myself in English. I think and I hope it will make me a better writer overall, in the long run. And I also felt that the combination of Southern-Americana style music with the lovely French language would be an interesting and unexpected idea.

Here’s the video for “La Mer” (link to lyrics below).

[Lyrics]

Less ambiguously in her home genre, she dishes up a Southern Gothic tale for her most recent single, “Arkansas Murder Ballad” (lyrics again below):

[Below, click Play button to begin Arkansas Murder Ballad. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 4:19 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

[Lyrics]

From evidence at her site, she had her first child just a few months ago, in March. “Arkansas Murder Ballad” was released as a single a month or so before. If I’ve indeed pieced together this whole chronology correctly, that baby may be at risk for some very disturbed dreams!

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  1. […] This isn’t the first time I’ve featured a song from Angela Easterling’s 2012 French-language album, Mon Secret. (That would have been in a post from a couple-three years ago.) […]

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