Dave Easley is one of the city’s—if not the world’s—most amazing guitarists, with a concentration in pedal steel. You’d assume he’d be first in line for the world’s best gigs, and he does in fact play Swiss festivals. Then again, he also plays the Crazy Lobster restaurant on the Riverwalk. In forward-thinking groups such as 3Now4 with monster bassist James Singleton, Easley filters hyper-fast melodic playing through otherworldly synthesizer foot pedals. Yet Easley can also be seen in the clothes of a fishmonger performing at St. Roch Tavern, sitting barefooted, hunched over at the mic, his barely audible voice warbling Bob Marley covers. He either doesn’t consider himself as amazing as so many of us do, or he simply makes strange choices.
Easley’s new A Time of the Signs is squarely the latter. Everything about it is strange. Some aspects are strange in a bad way, like the crookedly photoshopped parking signs on its front cover, and chintzy calculator font on back. But many of the 14 psychedelic, reverb- drenched original compositions on the disk are perfectly, awesomely strange. Where his voice may sound weak live, on this recording Easley can whisper over the band, and as a result often sounds feminine and beautiful or eerie and psychedelic. The guitar is often muddy in a good way that most guitarists would nonetheless be unsatisfied with because it’s rarely in your face. When Easley isn’t singing he is soloing, but rarely does he demand the spotlight. The liner notes don’t mention that most of the “organ” playing also comes via Easley’s guitar.
Easley’s lyrics and compositions combine the oblivious directness of Daniel Johnston and the chops and sarcasm of Frank Zappa. “Judge, Dat Towin’ Sign Wuddn’t Dare Before,” is a quasi-second-line number decrying New Orleans’ unfair system of parking tickets and towing. On the zydeco-ish blues song “Bale of Hay,” Easley sings, “My girlfriend thinks she’s a rock star / but she’s built like a bail of hay.” The mid-tempo vocal harmonies of “Now You Know Why I Got the Blues,” sound like the best moments on the Other Planets’ masterpiece Hello Beams. The maker of strange choices feels the need to announce aloud the song’s guitar solo by Brian Stoltz.
The album proceeds to swing from the downright womanly singing and acoustic picking of “Sad Train Whistle Blues,” into the almost spoken “Under a Pagan Moon,” reminiscent of a new-agey Gil Scott-Heron. “Magic Dreams” is a psychedelic rhumba that ends in a gorgeous freaky guitar solo. Aside from the unfortunate, intermittent reggae tunes, Easley has made a very nice lo-fi psychedelic record, though as with all good outsider music, you can’t help wondering if that’s what he intended to make.