Fred Eaglesmith,
Cha Cha Cha
(Lonesome Day, 2010)

Fred Eaglesmith is among the many able musicians far better known in his native Canada, where he has a fanatical following, than south of the border down America way. To me, he's a name I've heard, always in flattering contexts, here and there over the years without ever being exposed to anything but the occasional cover of one of his songs.

Ordinarily, I see him characterized as a folk or country singer who occasionally performs bluegrass. Cha Cha Cha, however, is a mid-tempo rock disc, with occasional touches of Bruce Springsteen in his more intimate moments. For an instantly recognizable instance of the latter, there's "Shallow," which also boasts a fantastic hook that will resound in your brain for days afterwards. On first hearing, I mistook "Rebecca Street" for a Springsteen composition, a particularly good one, that I'd missed. I suspect that the Boss wouldn't mind having written either of these. As he is so often everywhere these days, early Tom Waits is also a manifest influence.

Coming to Eaglesmith's work untrained in it, I can only say that this is a pretty good album if you like rock singer-songwriters, or just well-crafted music. Eaglesmith sings in a deep growl of a voice, and the music is melodic and straightforward, which is generally how I prefer my rock 'n' roll, mouldy fig that I am. Since Eaglesmith's vocals tend toward the mumbled, most likely you'll have to check the printed lyrics -- uniformly impressive, suggesting something of a literary sensibility -- to follow the stories which seem united, more or less, in the common theme of romantic break-up. Depressing love songs are, of course, always to be preferred to their justly dreaded and despised opposite: Positive Love Songs (an actual music-industry trade term).

Though not arranged as a country song, the excellent "Dynamite & Whiskey" would be a hillbilly hit in an honorable world, where hard-hitting hard-times songs fusing the sensibilities of Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie would be heralded and widely heard. Fortunately, it's here on Cha Cha Cha, along with nine other songs you won't mind having in your life.

music review by
Jerome Clark

12 February 2011

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