"Break Your Mother's Heart"

New West

The title of singer-songwriter Tim Easton's latest CD is taken from the chorus of "Poor, Poor LA," a tune he composed during a recent trip to Mexico. The song, which kicks off the album, sounds like something Paul Simon might have composed in the late '60s if he had followed Bob Dylan to Nashville. It's another reminder that Easton's alt-country sound is more crafty and tuneful than most.

Not to mention atmospheric. The mood here is often minor key, with ballads as languid as a Mexican summer ("Amor Azul") and romantic musings that sometimes turn out to be almost more chant than song ("Hummingbird" and "Man That You Need"). When the tempo briefly quickens on "Lexington Jail," Easton sticks with the basics, relying on chugging rockabilly rhythms to set his tale in motion. But for the most part Easton allows his songs to slowly unfold, quietly and gracefully, until the softly spinning chorus to, say, "Watching the Lightning" begins to linger in your head.

The musicians he's recruited this time around, including veteran studio drummer Jim Keltner and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, are content to stay in the background, adding a subtle array of accents to the sparse, primarily acoustic arrangements that feature Easton on guitar, mandolin, keyboard and other instruments. He also finds time to champion the work of Brooklyn-based songwriter J.P. Olsen, who contributes the vividly drawn character portrait "John Gilmartin" and the album's cutting coda "True Ways."

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Tuesday at IOTA. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Tim Easton, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8104. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)