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01.28.09

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Phaedra
Courtesy Fred Eaglesmith
METAPHYSICIAN: Fred Eaglesmith goes spooky and dark on 'Tinderbox' album.

Jonestown Waits

Fred Eaglesmith finds a different kind of cult appeal on 'Tinderbox'

By Steve Palopoli


FRED EAGLESMITH'S Tinderbox was one of the best albums of last year. And yet it's likely you didn't hear about it. Eaglesmith's career has often gone like that—he's rocked hard when everybody expected him to make Americana records, then switched to country ballads just when the world was ready for more rave-ups about trains, cars and guns.

And if his fans thought that was strange—well, Tinderbox is way, way stranger than that. Something on the order of Eaglesmith jamming with Tom Waits on a 1930s chain gang full of bluesmen, it's spooky and dark, with a hint of the metaphysical. "It was very Jonestown to me," he admits.

It no doubt helped that he recorded it in his own studio, inside a Masonic Lodge that he calls home when he's not on the road. "It's got 16-foot vaulted ceilings, really weird unfinished floors, Louisiana wallpaper," says Eaglesmith. "It's really dark in there, there's no windows. A lot of times when I was recording this album, which would be 4 or 5 in the morning, by myself, I'd have the door open and there would be ambient sounds you can barely hear. I can hear the birds on it."

At times Tinderbox does sound a bit like a collection of cult spirituals, although Eaglesmith brings empathy to the characters' first-person perspectives. Within the universe of the album, everything from "I Pray Now" to the world-weary "Killing Me" fits within a self-contained philosophy. "You can tell they're really fucked up, all the people on the record," he says. "But they're trying to put it together. They're trying to come to some resolution, and that's what we're all trying to do, right?"

Eaglesmith has been touring solidly since the album came out last February, but this is the first time he's been back to this area. Whatever sound he may have cultivated on any given record, his live show is always the chance to see all of Eaglesmith's eras come together in a cohesive whole.

"I don't tour records," he says. "I tour my career."


FRED EAGLESMITH plays Thursday (Jan. 29) at 8pm the Little Fox Theatre, 2209 Broadway, Redwood City. Tickets are $18/$20. (650.369.4119)


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