FRED EAGLESMITH comes with a lot of impressive baggage. For one thing, he's apparently the only living Canadian ever to have scored a number one on the Bluegrass charts. He also puts most so-called hard-working artists in the shade by annually clocking up a Ramones-style 180 shows a year and can include the likes of The Cowboy Junkies, Martin Scorsese and James Caan amongst his legion of fans.
Not a bad resume even before you've heard a note, but it's when Fred Eaglesmith and his talented henchmen begin laying into their twisted, backwoods country-folk-blues amalgam that the fireworks really start. The kooky, gritty 'Tinderbox' is apparently his 17th (!) album, but don't worry if his light's been hidden under a bushel to you previously - as it has for me - because this is an esoterically excellent point of entry regardless of history.
Eaglesmith's pedigree is never in any doubt. From the arcane delights provided by the oddball, railroad-ridin' roots manoeuvres of opener 'Sweet Corn' onwards, Fred hollers and drawls up a storm. He sounds every bit as gravelly and gritty as you'd hope a bloke so beardy and weatherbeaten would and often (as on the Gospel-ly, Mary Gauthier co-write 'Shoulder To The Plow' and the heartbroken song of leaving that is 'Quietly') it's easy to hear why he's favourably compared to the hard-drinkin' hobo Americana pioneers like Woody Guthrie and Townes Van Zandt, even though Eaglesmith actually hails from north of the Canadian border.
OK, it's also true that the inebriated potency of early Tom Waits is easily traceable in songs such as the parched and cracked, forgotten soldier's blues of 'The Light Brigade', but it's never a problem, especially when Eaglesmith also has songs like the low-ridin' murder ballad 'Shoeshine' and the hard-won cynic's folk-blues of 'You Can't Trust Them' in reserve. The Gospel-soaked aspect of Eaglesmith's best songs and the ongoing battle 'tween good and evil therein is also a seriously attractive selling point. 'Get On Your Knees', for example, has an especially hungry hellhound on its' trail ("Jesus told me to save your souls in his name sake/ with tongue of fire and a rattlesnake") and the album's excellent title track ("the cemetery's sizzling/ out behind the fence they're buttoning down the devil, like Jesus with a wrench") is one of the creepiest and most vivid four minutes you'll behold all year.
Armed with a versatile band, a penchant for bizarre percussion sounds and the most psychotic banjo playing this side of The Monks' back catalogue, Fred Eaglesmith comes highly recommended. 'Tinderbox' is the sound of a particularly devoted congregation putting salt on the devil's tail and is surely a holy communion saints and sinners alike need to attend.