That old saying about looking back in order to move forward may seem clichéd, but for roots rock mainstay Tim Easton, there’s some truth to it. His latest record, You Don’t Really Know Me, finds him coming out of some dark days and joining up with the same producers — Brad Jones and Robin Eaton — who steered the ship on his 1998 debut, like some sort of sweet full circle. Easton plays with minimal intervention, allowing his familiar, lived-in rasp and acoustic guitar strums to warm us up all on their own.
Written in the midst of 2020 at the end of a long road of hard living, You Don’t Really Know Me is an honest and reflective exploration of a life that could be lived better. Easton has found a little redemption in these songs and wants to spread it around. On the springy “Peace of Mind” he sings, “Nobody really wants you to suffer / nobody wants anybody to be in pain / but whatever you truly want for another / you may have yourself someday,” later leaving us with a climactic final bit of wisdom: “I want you have the same peace of mind / that I wish for myself.”
On “Real Revolution” he sings about the quieter struggle of showing up for yourself, growing so weary of your own behavior you feel pushed to make a change. The up-tempo, harmonica-laden gem “Running Down Your Soul” finds Easton hitting the wall: “I’m not gonna mince words / or bury them under echo reverb,” he sings. We may not know the real Easton, but it feels like he wants us to.
Easton also pays tribute to heroes (“Voice on the Radio” for John Prine) and friends (“River Where Time Was Born” for Justin Townes Earle) lost in 2020, poignant additions to a record about confronting your mortality.
Easton makes space for joy on You Don’t Really Know Me, too. On the jovial “Festival Song” he makes us long for the days of standing close to each other, putting aside our worries and enjoying live music. “When we all come together / it feels like the world is gonna be alright.”