Closing in on 20 albums, Canada's Fred Eaglesmith is as calculating roots artist as exists. Having had the self-described "weirdest career in the world," Eaglesmith remains fully cognizant that he must balance artistic evolution with his audience's willingness to accept transformation.
Eaglesmith has forged his success travelling the highways of North America. Embraced by a loyal following, he has seldom stood still; each disc released since the mid-'90s has featured a subtle stylistic shift.
"Cha Cha Cha" finds Eaglesmith recording with his road band. Supplemented they may be by extra guitars, percussion and various effects, The Fred Eaglesmith Travelling Show does heavy lifting on the 10 tracks, guided by Eaglesmith's unwavering hand.
Much has been made of the album's bossa nova rhythms; without doubt, ears may take some adjusting. Equally apparent is the quality songwriting. Concise, wasting neither words nor emotions, Eaglesmith cuts to the quick, freeing love and its pursuit from convention.
Several songs follow sonic veins explored on "Tinderbox", although that album's evangelical-inspired darkness is absent; Sliver of the Moon and Rebecca Street would not have sounded out of place on that masterful release.
The ability to exhibit different personalities is an Eaglesmith trademark. Sinister Fred - he that explores the bleakest sides of life - makes an appearance in Dynamite and Whiskey while on Shallow Lovelorn Fred sings, "I could be that shallow, too/If only I wasn't in so deep."
Eaglesmith protégés The Fabulous Ginn Sisters contribute background vocals drenched in campy country soul.
One appreciates the originality of "Cha Cha Cha" and Eaglesmith's refusal to stagnate, but misses the unadulterated intensity of 45 Tons, Time to Get A Gun and even Mrs. Hank Williams; some FredHeads may be disappointed in this album from Eaglesmith. Given time and an open mind, "Cha Cha Cha" may soak in and become a new favorite.