It's like a page torn from a Henry Miller novel: American expat musician busking his way across Europe, whiling away in Prague at the foot of the 750-year-old Charles Bridge, spending his days playing Woody Guthrie and Elmore James. And the nights?
"It was bottles of wine, a lot of romance, people falling in love and hanging out while we played songs on that bridge as the sun was going down," says roots-loving singer-songwriter Tim Easton, who spent time in London and Paris alongside his fellow busker, a pre-fame Beck Hanson. The Ohio native and recent Nashville transplant kept journals of that time. "I finished a novel, but it's just too dirty."
When Easton returned from Europe, he recorded his two records in Nashville as part of The Haynes Boys before striking out on a solo career. Now — his vagabond ways tamed the past few years, first by marriage and then a newborn daughter — he's settled in Nashville and recorded his first album here since those early days, Not Cool. It's Easton's version of a rock album, but also deeply inspired by Robert's Western World, which Easton remembers from his first early-'90s encounter.
"Then it was a different scene," says Easton. "It was dangerous — there were drug dealers. Then a couple years later I went there and BR-549 was playing. Those guys changed the town and reminded the town how fun this music could be."
Since his solo debut, 1998's Special 20, Easton has explored Americana's soundscape, from Woody Guthrie and Doc Watson to ragged roots rock, shuffling alt-country and confessional folk pop. He moves further afield with Not Cool, taking full advantage of local session players' legendary skills to turn out an old-fashioned rock record.
"Day 1 of making this album we recorded six songs," says Easton. "That day alone was testimony to the kind of work that gets done every day. There's no room for slacking around here. Some things that were in more of a Buddy Holly/Everly Brothers, kind of British sound that were more pop-oriented, I rockabillied them up a little bit just to make it slant that way. It was so easy to make this record. I said yes a lot, and we did it fast."
The result is pretty upbeat, ranging from the rave-up "Crazy Motherfucker from Shelby, Ohio," to the organ-fueled Jerry Lee Lewis-style stomp "Tired and Hungry" and the harmonica-blues of "Four Queens." It closes with a pretty instrumental bluegrass ode to the late Levon Helm, "Knock out Roses (for Levon)."
One track, a kind of gritty Bakersfield swing, "Little Doggie (1962)," even imagines Tennessee's answer to Alabama Shakes — "That's when you stir your whiskey with the crust of an old corncake." Easton wrote it in the parking lot during the Americana Music Awards in September.
"I was standing in the alley between the Ryman and Robert's," Easton explains. "Jason Isbell had just won the Song of the Year, and I was congratulating him and rapping with him in the alley. I ducked down into Robert's ... I heard [guitarist] J.D. Simo and immediately, it was time to be at work. I used the energy of them having a good time with the audience to go out to the car and write that song. It's just about showing somebody a good time who might be down in their ways."
Even having traveled far and wide and having lived in some of the world's most extraordinary cities, Easton's not ashamed to call Nashville his home. In fact, he's proud of the town, and is an unapologetic booster.
"Great rock 'n' roll scene, great food scene," Easton says. "Visual art and poetry as well. I can say with all sincerity that what is going on here in town is every bit as great a scene as has ever existed."
Email email@example.com.Correction: A previous version of this story referred to Easton's "Crazy Motherfucker from Shelby, Ohio" as "autobiographical." The song was written by J.P. Olsen, and it is not, in fact, autobiographical.