Alive and Unhinged, A Most Eccentric Entertainer Bares All

Fred Eaglesmith & Tif Ginn | Alive | (independence)
Four stars out of five

Known for both his satirical and sometimes cynical point of view, Fred Eaglesmith is a unique variation on what’s expected from the usual traveling troubadour. Decidedly unassuming, yet known for his wry asides, rambling monologues and a decidedly off-kilter perspective, Eaglesmith is revered in his native Canada but something of a cult figures far as those south of the great northern border are concerned. Still, to the devoted legion of fans that refer to themselves as “Fredheads,” his blend of with, wisdom and irreverence he’s a madcap minstrel who makes his concerts a spontaneous celebration of both mirth and music.

While Eaglesmith’s humor is decidedly self-effacing, it doesn’t suppress his irrepressible attitude, and his songs always find their mark when it comes to skewering pundits, older people, preening politicians, and anyone else taken with their own privilege and pretense. A freewheeling rambler for the better part of the past 40 years, Eaglesmith comes across as part Woody Guthrie, part Will Rodgers, part Don Rickles, and part irascible entertainer. And yet his art is also taken seriously; he’s had his songs covered by many of Nashville’s finest and, in the process, been a recipient of a Juno Award, the Canadian version of the Grammy.

That said, Alive, offers a taste of what it’s like to witness Eaglesmith spewing all his unfettered outrage. Accompanied by his wife, backing vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Tif Ginn, he runs through nearly three dozen songs and monologues over the expanse of two CDs. Then again, any attempt to accurately capture the feel of the two in concert is no easy task, given that Eaglesmith is an unbridled extrovert who freely expounds on any given subject and circumstance.  And the fact that many of the songs — “Jenny Smith,” “Tired,” “Old McCormick,””Get Your Prices Up,” “Dangerous,” and Ginn’s surprisingly sensitive version of Ian Tyson’s classic “Someday Soon”  — come across as unpretentious, down home homilies offer the impression that Eaglesmith and Ginn are simply weary, restless and yet precocious performers who are only out to oust their inhibitions. The song “Late for the Show,” which Eaglesmith says was made up on the way to the concert, is offered up as an excuse for being late and a prime example of the duo’s ability to adapt to circumstance and make each performance a unique encounter. His gritty, raspy vocals find an unlikely counterpoint in Ginn’s shrieks and hollers, further adding to the impression that the two are not only offbeat, but completely unhinged as well.

Dedicated Fredheads ought to find Alive a ready reminder of what they’ve come to enjoy about Eaglesmith over the years, although the uninitiated may find the proceedings somewhat perplexing, at least initially. Inevitably though, any Eaglesmith offering ought to be considered less a curiosity, and more a respite from the troubles and travails that would otherwise deprive us of reasons to rejoice.

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