There is a sense of joy that permeates Stewart Eastham’s latest release, Dancers In The Mansion. While Eastham’s previous album The Man I Once Was was a portrait of a man in turmoil, his new album paints a much different picture. The inky blacks and saturated reds splashed across the album cover provide clues as to the revelry within. The album’s closing line, “Celebrate yourself with love tonight,” is evocative of the celebratory spirit found throughout the record.
This dynamic collection of songs elevates the Americana genre to new heights with its lyricism and innovative musical arrangements. The album opens with the smoky, horn-inflected “In The Morning” and closes with the disco-gospel of “Lift Your Soul.” “Pretty Little Songbird” brings the funk as “Leavin’ By Sundown” stands with the best of country-flavored classic rock. “2023 Miles” showcases a swirl of psychedelic country while “Old Lovers (In A Cheap Motel)” is reminiscent of classic pop. The slick grandeur of“Jackpot” is a direct descendent of Nashville’s late ’60s/early ’70s “countrypolitan” era, with its lush strings and background vocals.
Dancers In The Mansion pushes the boundaries of what an Americana record can sound like. His hip-hop influences shine through in the rhythm of many of the songs—most notably the country-flavored weeper “Carry On,” which uses a driving rhythm to accent the character’s drive to push through a great loss. At times, Eastham also displays a pop sensibility that echoes Elvis Costello and early Tom Waits.
Eastham was born and raised in the foothills of rural Northern California. (The track “Fruit Cocktail Cannery Blues” recounts a setting from Eastham’s Butte County hometown where he spent several summers working to save up for college.) He grew up on the sounds of classic and outlaw country, with a special place in his heart for California country greats Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. This was supplemented with a love of rock ’n’ roll—starting with his parents’ beat-up Elvis and Beatles records on up through the glossy pop of hair metal. Eastham is also a long time hip-hop fan.
While attending UC Davis, Eastham played drums in a satirical thrash band and later a power pop group. After graduating with a degree in Computer Engineering, he switched gears and moved to Los Angeles to attend film school. There he developed his skills as a storyteller through writing, directing, and acting in films. He also became an acolyte of country music—starting with Hank Sr. and working his way through the country-flavored singer-songwriters of the ’70s (like John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, and Mickey Newbury) on up through the neotraditionalist sounds of Dwight Yoakam. It was at this point he started writing and singing his own songs. He fronted the band Day Of The Outlaw for two albums before embarking on a solo career.
Eastham moved to Nashville from Los Angeles in the fall of 2010. “It took me about five years to really settle in here and get comfortable,” he says. “Now that I’m living in East Nashville, I feel I’m finally home.” This notion is addressed in the track “Sometimes, The Road” where Eastham’s impressionistic lyrics paint a picture of the fading nostalgia one has for “back home.” Each chorus ends with the refrain: “Sometimes the road will bring you home.”
Parallel to his musical pursuits and echoing back to his film school background, Eastham is an avid filmmaker. He has worked on documentaries as well as co-produced five music videos for his previous album. Eastham is also a rabid collector of film soundtracks on vinyl. In addition to his love of listening to soundtracks, Eastham has scored several short films and plans to do more soundtrack work in the future.
“With this album, I feel like I got to dance with my own dancers in the mansion. I made the album I wanted to make and had a blast doing it.” When asked to sum up his experience of recent years, he points to a phrase repeated several times in the album’s final track “Lift Your Soul”: “In the end, it’s gonna be alright.”