Fred Eaglesmith's Traveling Steam Show
Acclaimed singer, songwriter and bandleader Fred Eaglesmith is a genuine iconoclast and true original. It's the natural result of following the cue of his musical career and now 19 albums with the January 2012 release of 6 Volts. The result is one of the most fascinating and musically rewarding careers in contemporary music.
As he has doggedly gone his own way as an independent musical artist, Eaglesmith has also enjoyed such high profile rewards in recent years as having his songs covered by country superstars Toby Keith, Alan Jackson and Miranda Lambert, among many other accomplishments.
6 Volts is yet another landmark on a journey. The album takes its title from the battery that powered the game-changing transistor radio introduced in 1954, the same year that rock'n'roll emerged into popular consciousness and embodies the notion of back to the future. Captured live in the studio with one microphone onto a one-track reel to reel recorder like so many enduring classics, 6 Volts also bristles with contemporary urgency.
By bringing the recording process all the way back home to its technologically basic origins, Eaglesmith succeeds in creating authentic and meaningful music. "There's still a certain love to it that's better than multitracking," he observes. Music doesn't get any more real than when you can't overdub, autotune, or fix it in the mix.
6 Volts opens with the memerizing life affirming track "Cemetery Road," the tragic yet loving "Katie," and the sparse and meditative "Been a Long Time." It channels the raw rock'n'roll musical truths of his youth while offering a nod of homage to his country music inspiration on "Johnny Cash."
"My Dad had an old console radio on top of the clothes dryer, and when Johnny Cash came on, he would put one hand on each side of the radio and really listen to that song. It really meant that much to him," notes Eaglesmith.
The title song with its classic rock'n'roll strains offers lyrical insights into Eaglesmith's symbolic and actual yin/yang equation throughout. The shadow side of love and desire lurk on "Dangerous" and the memory fever dream "Cigarette Machine." He catalogs his musical past on "Betty Oshawa" and "Stars," portraying the truths of everyday working musicians. He closes out 6 Volts with the resigned yet still determined onward march of the traveling soul on "Trucker Speed."
The album also draws on the spirit of the era when the transistor radio generation of musical artists and listeners keyed into the electricity of fusing rock'n'roll with country and Southern roots. "That era really felt like that was a powerful place to refer back to," Eaglesmith notes. "I did not want it to sound like, say, 1963. I wanted it to sound like a record that referenced that but was still made in 2011."
Throughout the years since his first album in 1980, Eaglesmith has usefully managed to both transcend and blend such genres and categories as rock'n'roll, country, folk, singer-songwriter, Americana, blues and bluegrass to fashion his own distinctive brand of literate, melodic and rhythmic rocking elecro-acoustic North American music. Along the way he has gathered a unique set of accomplishments: a Juno Award for Best Roots & Traditional Album, had his music used in films by Martin Scorsese, James Caan and Toby Keith, wrote a hit #1 on the bluegrass charts ("Thirty Years of Farming," recorded by James King), wowing David Letterman in his U.S. network debut in 2010, and finding his songs included in the curriculum at two colleges. His followers are so devoted that he is the host and centerpiece of a number of music festivals in the U.S. and Canada. He also inspired the Roots on the Rails rolling music fests and hosts its excursions on scenic railways as well as, last year, at sea. When not writing recording and performing music, Eaglesmith creates visual art that is exhibited in commercial galleries and museums.
In addition to having his compositions featured on best-selling albums by country singers and writers themselves like Keith ("White Rose"), Jackson ("Freight Train") and Lambert ("Time To Get A Gun"), such fellow songwriting talents as The Cowboy Junkies, Chris Knight, Kasey Chambers, Mary Gauthier, Todd Snider and Dar Williams have all recorded Eaglesmith songs.
One of nine children raised on a farm in Ontario, Eaglesmith remains genuinely tied to the land and the lives, labors, trials, tribulations and triumphs of everyday people that have consistently given his work its enduring emotional resonance. After his family lost its farm, he set out on his own at age 15, hitchhiking and hopping trains across North America and honing his craft as a writer, singer and musical entertainer in hobo camps and for crews of fellow forest firefighters before working his way upward in small clubs and coffeehouses.
These days Eaglesmith is in motion most of the year from show to show in a school bus and RV that have been converted to run on both gas and used cooking oil they get from restaurants and diners along the way. The troupe pulls into campgrounds, RV parks, truckstops and WalMart parking lots to spend the night rather than in hotels, and cooks up their own feasts in the morning for breakfast. "Times are hard and things are tough for people, and we shouldn't be riding in busses that look like bachelor apartments," he states. As a result, "It makes me sound like the truth when I'm up there singing because it is the truth."
It's all part and parcel of his mission of delivering a memorable and moving entertainment experience for the masses with his band, the Traveling Steam Show.
In the final analysis, it's a simple equation. "We just play rock'n'roll," Eaglesmith asserts. And in the process deliver music based on passion and truth, with an emotional union and a shared sense of fun. "The root of it all is my little bit of creativity, that little ball of fire inside me. I just do what feels like the truth to me. And when it feels like the truth it's really not that hard to do or hard to listen to.
Eaglesmith concludes. So he's happily left with a decision made long ago that he continues to follow that delivers essential affirmation with every step of life he takes. "I'm gonna play good, sing good, write good and act good."
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The Green Frog (View)
1015 N State St
Bellingham, WA 98225
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