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Pop Music Review

Fred Eaglesmith Blends Banter With Some Wistful Narratives

January 17, 2002|Marc Weingarten

Fred Eaglesmith is a folkie who doesn't buy into the usual rosy myths about the American heartland--his darkly comic vision is more Walker Evans than Ansel Adams.

A stocky, balding firebrand with a weathered, craggy voice, Eaglesmith uses his terse narratives about crumbling relationships and a vanishing rural idyll like blunt instruments, with all the residual sentiment stripped away.

Making a rare solo appearance at Genghis Cohen on Tuesday, the Canadian entertained an intimate clutch of loyalists with a short set that alternated between humorous tall tales and stark tragedies.

Eaglesmith writes with small brush strokes. His songs home in on telling details and offhanded moments that can conjure entire worlds. For the most part, his material on Tuesday was wistful and suffused with an odd optimism.

He sang about a restless owner of a roadside hot-dog stand who longs to learn how to make Texas barbecue, an out-of-business gas station where ghosts linger, a May-December romance that stubbornly refuses to fade.

Eaglesmith's fatalist streak turned up in his songs about broken relationships and in his between-song banter, which sounded like finely calibrated comedy routines.

It's a tricky balancing act, this whipsawing from pathos to broad yuks, but Eaglesmith negotiated it well, even when he busted a guitar string and had borrow an instrument to close out his set.

Marc Weingarten

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