Its seems to always be cold when Fred Eaglesmith comes to town. Good thing he brings his Traveling Steam Show to heat things up. It makes sense, actually, that Fred who was born and lives in Canada tends to tour the southern US when the hardest part of winter hits. The bus that carries them, often a subject of discourse on the stage, is a ragged mess. They’d just suffered a mild case of carbon monoxide poisoning a few days ago due to an inexplicably missing tail pipe. Only Fred could turn that into a funny story.
The entourage often pairs the Blue Plate Special with appearances at The Shed in Maryville and that is precisely what they did this time around. The Blue Plate is a gift in many ways – it’s free to attend, but it’s also, whether live or on the radio, a chance to get enough of a sample (usually thirty minutes, but an hour for some artists such as Fred) of an artist to determine whether you’d like to hear more. Often I do.
I’ve only see Fred at the Blue Plate, but I think this was the third time. Each time I’ve followed the show with a purchase of more of his music. It’s the kind of music that gets under your skin, haunts your mind when you lie down at night and comes back to you when you least suspect it.
Over the years and through many albums (he’s been a working musician for over 35 years) his style has varied significantly. He’s veered closer to bluegrass at times, becoming the only Canadian to compose a song which topped the bluegrass charts when James King released his, “Thirty Years of Farming.” He’s also been classified as “alt country,” and there is always a tinge of country in everything he does.
But his last three albums, particularly have charted a harder-edged course which he touts as real rock-and-roll. It’s sometimes loud, but just as often delicate. It does rock, but never veers close to a sonic tidal wave. Reverb trumps volume. If there is one thread that runs through it all, it is intelligent lyrics. His song-writing has been likened to the craft of short-story writing for its interesting characters, plot-twists and elevated language.
It’s easy to fall for the music or the lyrics and, if his voice is an acquired taste – he joked from the stage that parents were explaining to their children in the audience why they were listening to a man who cannot sing – I’ve acquired it. The voice perfectly fits his rough-hewn style, his sometimes twisted or tortured protagonists and his pull-up-a-chair-by-the-fire-and-let-me-tell-you-a-story approach to songwriting.
As usual, I’m including a video below just to give you a taste, but if you let it play through, it will run through four videos giving you a good feel for his current work. The photographs here are from the most recent Blue Plate performance and there are another couple dozen or so that I’ll pop up on the Inside of Knoxville Facebook page. If you want to see some weird experimental photographs of Fred, you will find those on my brand new Instagram account.