With new acts increasingly needing multiple genre-hyphenations to describe their musical approach, it’s sometimes pleasing to find an artist who unabashedly adheres to just one, as in the case of country singer-songwriter Miranda Easten.
True, there’s plenty of latitude within country (excuse the pun), but Easten removes any possibility of alt-or-other confusion within her debut album’s first song, Country Boy, singing about putting on ‘my best dress’ as her date’s ‘truck pulls up the drive’. As emphasised by the song’s video, this is the kind of country music that’s embraced across much of the States, and would likely find an enthusiastic audience in towns north, south and inland of Tamworth in NSW.
Recorded with pleasing clarity, her voice is confidently and consistently sweet, nuanced by little more than an evident American inflection to match the lyrical references in several of the songs – Chevys, Virginia freeways and John Deere caps for example. Being a debut collection these songs were likely written over a long period and overall it’s an album of reflection, mostly slow in tempo. She doesn’t ever overdo the pensive aspect though, keeping an equilibrium of vocal temperament that might risk listener frustration were it not for the matching discipline of her top quality studio band helping it to make musical sense.
‘Behind Unbroken Strings’ was produced by Greg Haver and recorded at Roundhead Studios, with a band that included Haver behind the drums plus Stephen Small, Tom Healy, Cass Basil and Mark Hughes. None are strongly associated with country music but they clearly know how to play it, and if Easten set out to make a quality statement with this introductory release, together they have.
Stephen Small’s piano begins the 10-song album in an upbeat mood and ends it with almost tear-inducing sadness on the title track, Behind Unbroken Strings. In-between there’s a range of lyrical and musical emotions that (despite a few less convincing tracks) more than justify the Christchurch-based singer/acoustic guitarist’s evident investment in recording these songs. Adding a welcome different energy at the halfway mark comes an unexpected cover of R.E.M.’s Country Feedback, which also contains the album’s only hint of an expletive. If this album was to stumble it would be here, but Easten and her fellow musicians manage to make it an inspired highlight.