I Like Trains
Fred Eaglesmith, Lipstick, Lies & Gasoline (Razor & Tie Records 1997) - Itinerant singer and songwriter Fred Eaglesmith released eight albums in a recording career dating back to 1980. With a national push behind Lipstick, Lies & Gasoline, the Ontario native seeks a broader audience for his amplified folk and blues.
Eaglesmith is one of nine kids born of a hard scrabble, religious family who lost their farm during the hard times of the early 80s. Eaglesmith's career was jumpstarted when he saw John Prine perform on T.V. Recalls Eaglesmith, "He was so sardonic. It was such an epiphany. I thought, 'I'm a sarcastic son of a bitch, I can be that cranky.'"
With that motivation, Eaglesmith began his career in earnest, together with band member Ralph Schipper (bass), and Willie Bennett (mandolin). Having been a farmer, a high-pressure water blaster, and a general construction worker, Eaglesmith knows of what he sings.
And that's kind of a scary thought, as Lipstick, Lies & Gasoline features several songs about guns and drinking, including "Seven Shells" and the laconic, "Time to Get a Gun." Eaglesmith has been influenced by Los Lobos and the Latin Playboys, as several songs develop a post-Kiko feedback-filled folk (including "Belle").
Eaglesmith also bears witness to the hard life of cold winters on the high-prairie, as attested to by the somber, "Drinking" (a duet with fellow Canadian Lynn Miles, who is a Shelley West sound-alike).
I saw Eaglesmith live last fall in Sacramento, and dug his understated, tongue-in-cheek approach (although the human washboard player was a bit much). To be honest, Eaglesmith's prior release, Drive-In Movie (which won a Juno award in 1996), is a stronger album, filled with evocative songs about relationships and trains.
Eaglesmith is an earnest songwriter with a tale for middle America (where they've got plenty of liquor and sidearms). Lipstick, Lies & Gasoline is a working man's lament, and a folk adventure.
Letters to Cleo, Go! (Revolution 1997) - Boston's Letters to Cleo is a five-piece modern rock band fronted by singer Kay Hanley. Their third release, Go!, is a tight pop album that reflects the band's years of live performances.
Having taken a six-month sabbatical after two straight years on the road, Letters to Cleo was given fresh life by veteran produce Peter Collins (who has worked with Jewel and Sneaker Pimps) and new drummer Tom Polce (who replaces Stacy Jones, who departed to join Veruca Sult).
Go! is a deceptive release. At first blush, the album seems a surfeit of uptempo pop numbers. But look deeper, and you'll find the ironic undertones on such songs as "Find You Dead" and "I'm a Fool." And track nine ("Alouette & Me") is worth the wait, as it unfolds a sly look at a relationship gone wrong.
If you're looking for real pop with serious undertones, try Go!
Leonard Cohen, More Best Of (Columbia 1997) - In celebration of his 30th anniversary as a recording artist, Columbia Records has released More Best Of, featuring 13 tracks released during the last fifteen years by this renowned international singer and author.
The prolific Cohen has recorded nine studio albums during his 30-year career, including his last release, The Future (1992), and has also published 11 books, including two novels. Cohen has not recorded new music in several years, as he now lives as a monk in a sparse religious retreat in Southern California. (I read a humorous interview with Cohen several years ago in which he sardonically complained about the spartan lifestyle and demands of his religious order. But he seems content with his choice.)
More Best Of (the follow-up to his first "Greatest Hits" collection released in 1975) debuts two new songs - "Never Any Good" and "The Great Event." The album also features such fine tracks as "Everybody Knows" (covered by many artists) and "First We Take Manhattan" (from I'm Your Man), "The Future" and "Closing Time" (from The Future) and "Suzanne" and "Dance Me to the End of Love" (from Cohen Live).
Cohen combines a satiric wit with insightful observations on contemporary society. For good introduction to this challenging folker.
-- Randy Krbechek
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