Fred Eaglesmith: Tinderbox

Fred Eaglesmith's ground-zero-of-the-human-race testament, Tinderbox, proves once again the prickly Canadian farmer is, at least in song, Mr. Blue Collar, someone as in touch with the Average Joe as any songwriter drawing breath. While not directly topical, Tinderbox is very much a document of this moment in time, a journal of spiritual crisis yet renewed humanity. Songs like "You Can't Trust Them" and "Tinderbox" give a sense that Eaglesmith has taken the people's pulse, X-rayed hearts and souls and discovered both a spiritual void and a pervasive feeling that things aren't going well. As usual, some of his songs are so tragic and murky the spirit sags and the eyes water, but others, like "Chaingang," "I Pray Now" and "Shoulder to the Plow," shake the church-house rafters. "Fancy God" ("Your god's a fancy god, he's not the one I know") and "Worked Up Field" have the searing, angry dry-land realism of Terry Allen at his best. Producer Scott Merritt ranks with T-Bone Burnett and Daniel Lanois for odd percussion, scrambled, minimalist instrumentation and lo-fi ethic; he and Eaglesmith have invented an atmosphere that sounds like an apocalyptic choir waiting for the Rapture but isn't certain whether it will be pleasant or painful. Open to as many interpretations as there are ears to hear it, Tinderbox is Eaglesmith at his most down-to-earth magical and, paradoxically, his most magically down-to-earth.

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William Michael Smith