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Up Close and Personal (10/15/99) Write to CD Shakedown
Bree SharpBree Sharp, A Cheap and Evil Girl (Trauma Records 1999) - Brash rock singer Bree Sharp holds no punches on her debut release, A Cheap and Evil Girl. With bright melodies and jangly guitars (a la Elastica), Sharp goes straight for the kill.

Sharp grew up in Philadelphia, but moved to New York City at age 17, where she attended NYU. While Sharp has drawn comparisons to pop/folk artist Patty Griffin, I find a closer resemblance to Lauren Christy: both have a "Stranger in a Strange Land" feel in their songs of the difficulties facing young women.

Publicity photoSharp provides vocals on the album, and is joined by Donna DiLego, Simon Austin and Knox Chandler on guitars, Paul Garisto on drums, and Marty Sarandria on bass.

The leadoff single, "David Duchovny," is about the star of the "X-Files" television series. Bree recorded a demo video with celebrities lip-syncing the song, including Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Whoopie Goldberg, Rosie O'Donnell, and Kiss. However, because full celebrity clearances have not been obtained, the video is not officially available to the public (although it is apparently a hot underground item).

Bree in concertBree includes a number of power ballads a la Paula Cole, such as "Walk Away" and "Fool's Gold." Yet her pop numbers, such as "America" and "Not Your Girl" (which reads like the refrain to Meredith Brook's "Bitch") have an accessible feel, with plenty of Alanis attitude.

Bree Sharp gets up close and personal on A Cheap and Evil Girl. Perhaps too close for some, but the girls just wanna have fun.

50-Odd DollarsFred Eaglesmith, 50-Odd Dollars (Razor & Tie 1999) - On 50-Odd Dollars, folk iconoclast Fred Eaglesmith remains true to the storytelling style he honed in his native Canada. The eleven new tracks find Eaglesmith expanding into a bigger studio sound, while remaining true to his closely-focused tales of trailer parks, long nights, and unmet yearnings.

Eaglesmith was raised on a farm in southern Ontario, one of nine children. Religion was key in his early years, as he grew up in a strict Christian background. (You have to hear Eaglesmith's song about a family wake on a farm in Canada with the casket in the front drawing room to appreciate his background.)

A man and his guitarEaglesmith blends the humorous insights of
John Prine with the hardscrabble of Kris Kristofferson and the neo-country of Kieran Kane. Now approaching 40, Eaglesmith remains a tireless performer, logging 250 gigs in Canada and the U.S. in 1998, some of which are far from glamorous. Eaglesmith recalls the "ten shows in Alberta where we did these pig roasts. We called them 'high octane nights.' It was sort of a trailer trash theme. That's where I sell my records, not really in stores."

The 35- minutes of
50-Odd Dollars are a hillbilly mix, with tracks like "Crazier" [though I prefer "Crazier Than Me" from his Juno-award winning Drive-in Movie (1995)], the off-kilter rock of "George Overdrive," and the laconic storytelling of "Rodeo Boy."

Fred on stage
50-Odd Dollars was recorded with producer Scott Merritt at The Cottage studios in Guelph, Ontario. Fred's humorous side is more restrained on the new album, though "Mighty Big Car" fairly reflects his deadpan wit.

In describing his music,
Eaglesmith says, "I call it the Ventures meet bluegrass music. Some people call my music alternative country. I'll let them call me anything as long as they pay me . . . There's a magazine called 'No Depression.' I call my music, 'Some Depression.'"

The band includes Eaglesmith's long-time backing combo, the Flying Squirrels (
Willy P. Bennett on harmonic and mandolin, Washboard Hank on percussion, and Ralph Schipper on bass), with studio assistance from Peter Von Althen (drums), Paul Intson (bass), Jeff Bird and John P. Allen (fiddle), Dan Whitley (mandolin) and Kim Deschamps (pedal steel and guitar).

Cool FredBeing a down-home sort,
Eaglesmith isn't comfortable until he rolls up his sleeves. Says Fred, "Just being an artist is a joke. What do you do all day? I write more songs than anyone I know and I still got all this free time."

Despite opening for such acts as
Merle Haggard, The Jayhawks, Willie Nelson, and George Jones, Eaglesmith has never achieved renown outside a circle of loyal fans and music aficionados. Yet Fred makes the best of it. "I never concentrated on the major markets . . . There's no end to small towns of 10,000. All you need is 200 to 300 people to show up at the local bar, and you can make a pretty good living."

It's a shame that Fred labours in relative obscurity, because he has real talent and an indomitable spirit. If you want the real deal, look for
50-Odd Dollars.

The Hangdogs
The Hangdogs, East of Yesterday (Shanachie 1999) - The quartet known as the Hangdogs deliver earnest roots-rock in the best style of Alejandro Escovedo. Though they hail from New York City, the band has plenty of Texas attitude and roots riffs to go around.

The
Hangdogs (all with ties to Syracuse University) consist of Matthew "Banger" Grimm on vocals and guitar, Automatic Slim on lead guitars, John Carlin on bass, and Kevin Baier on drums and backing vocals. East of Yesterday was originally released on the band's own local label, and was picked up for national distribution.

Traveling in ItalyYet
the band knows its place. Explains lead singer Grimm, "We don't have any illusions about being the Next Big Thing. We're small potatoes, and maybe we'll never be big potatoes, but we make friends wherever we go."

And those fans extend to such cities as Atlanta, Memphis, and especially Dallas, where, according to drummer Kevin Baier, "They treat us like rock stars."

Silly guysWhile the band displays country influences on songs like "Speed Rack" (complete with pedal steel), the foursome also shows
Stonesy grit on tracks like "Something Left to Save." And there's a big slice of alternative Nashville on "I'd Call to Say I Love You (But I Don't Anymore)."

Despite their big city background, the sweet guest vocals from
Barbara Brousal on "In My Dreams" prove that roots/country is a state of mind rather than a place.

The band in ItalyExplains Grimm, "Growing up, I went to a lot of church services where I didn't see an iota of the spirit or camaraderie that I've seen at some rock-and-roll shows. That's church for us, and I think there's an element of healing in what we do."

More than healing,
East of Yesterday is a refreshing release, in the style of Dave Alvin and guitarist Mike Henderson. An honest release, East of Yesterday is worth a listen.

- Randy Krbechek © 1999

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