Singer/songwriter Tim Easton this week self-releases Paco and the Melodic Polaroids, a ten song collection of spare solo acoustic folk music. Each performance was recorded in one unbroken, unedited take, for reasons that tie back to the origins of commercial country music in America and recording technology itself.
But let’s start with that title.
“Basically it’s a love letter to my guitar, which I’ve played for so many years,” Easton says.
That would be Paco, a Gibson J-45 flat top acoustic Easton bought two-years-used in 1987. The instrument served him through years of rambling and street busking in Europe and one of the more acclaimed careers in contemporary Americana. This is the ninth solo studio album for the Nashville-based singer.
The Melodic Polaroids are recordings themselves, honest instant snapshots of single performances. Easton: “They were recorded direct to lacquer. That’s where you go in and you record on one microphone to a portable lathe which cuts the song right into a lacquer disc.”
It’s an arcane, exacting process that involves brushing away a fine ribbon of extruded material as the needle cuts its groove. The guys in charge, Dave Polster and Clint Holly, have set up their old-fashioned analog studio and christened it The Earnest Tube.
“It’s the way they used to make records years ago, like when Ralph Peer made the famous Bristol Sessions with the Carter Family,” the artist said.
That was 1927. This was 2017. But the location was nearly the same, a couple of blocks away from the long-lost Taylor-Christian Hat and Glove Company on State Street, which straddles the Tennessee and Virginia state line in Bristol. Peer also discovered and recorded Jimmie Rodgers, The Stoneman Family, Blind Alfred Reed and others in what's been called The Big Bang of commercial country music.
Easton says every song in this approach is a one-shot deal. “This kind of recording is not for the meek or one who gets nervous about the red light going on in a studio. You have to know your song well. You want to be prepared. And it just happened I had songs that were ready to go in this kind of format.”