Fred Eaglesmith with The Ginn Sisters
8 p.m. Tuesday
the Blue Door
2805 N. McKinley
$20 advance, $25 door
Fred Eaglesmith's the kind of plainspoken, no-nonsense fellow around which Americana was built. He sweats authenticity, and seems summarily incapable of deception or distortion. A Canadian raised in a big family on a farm, he hopped a freight train out of town and started down the musician's road in the early '70s when he was only 15, another victim of Elvis Presley.
"I was very young when I saw Elvis on television, and that was the day I decided that was my life and I never changed," Eaglesmith said. "I was on the farm and walked in from the barn. It was freezing cold, and we had just gotten a television. He was doing that Hawaiian thing. I was like, 'Really?' It's warm, he's surrounded by these girls, singing, it just looks like so much fun, and I thought, 'I'm going to do that.'"
Eaglesmith released his self-titled debut in 1980, drawing on that mix of parched country and the Bakersfield sound that would come to characterize the Texas country movement, although it didn't have a following yet. He spun tales about rural life, its constituents and the quiet desperation that can sneak up on a man when he's not looking. For a while, he tried to run the family farm between tours, but that didn't work out. Unappreciated in Canada, and still hardly known in America, he made his way to Nashville in the early '90s.
"I'd lost my business, the farm had failed, everything was failing. I was seven months behind on the mortgage and a guy came up to Canada and said, 'They would really like you in Nashville.' So I went down and I came home with the seven months in my pocket," he said.
From the beginning, Eaglesmith pursued his music with a DIY passion. He released his own albums because he "knew those record companies were lying to me from the beginning." He just kept working the road and writing songs. After four studio albums and a couple live discs, the singer/songwriter finally broke through with 1996's Juno award-winning "Drive-In Movie."
The attention afforded him another opportunity to sign with a major indie label, which he took, recording two albums for Razor & Tie: 1997's "Lipstick, Lies & Gasoline," and 1999's "50 Odd Dollars." Those releases never made any sales records, but the publicity helped raise his profile.
The label dropped him in 2000. Eaglesmith was a free agent and Americana was gaining popularity, although he had already begun to vary his formula, as evidenced by the more traditional country of 2002's "Falling Stars and Broken Hearts" and the bluegrass of 2003's "Balin." He returned to the old sound to some extent for 2004's "Dusty" and 2006's "Milly's Café," a pair of records inspired by the American Midwest.
"It's not unlike where I was raised: flat, dry, not really much hope. But there's some beauty in it " a real austere isolation that's fantastic," he said.
Eaglesmith retreated again from Americana with his latest album, 2008's "Tinderbox," which is something of country-gospel disc, keenly appropriate to the subject matter of faith and forbearance. With the dark, bluesy "You Can't Trust Them," he surveys the disaffection and paranoia gripping some quarters.
Eaglesmith will tell you, if you give him the chance, that Americana's already over.
"It's just that there's nothing new to take its place. Trust me, if there was something else, these guys would jump like flies. I saw them jump out of punk into Americana," he said.
So for his next album, "Cha Cha Cha," due this month, Eaglesmith's gone in yet another direction. He describes it as a dance album, and confesses there's some bossa nova on there.
"I just did an important record; I've had enough of me, haven't you? Let's dance now," he said, although he can't say for sure if he's digging around the bottom of that barrel or just being difficult. "That's a really good question, and it's a question I've asked myself all the time. How much am I just being a contrary prick?" "Chris Parker