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Fred Eaglesmith

Standard – 2017 (A Major Label)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Fred Eaglesmith

With his 18th album of original material, Fred Eaglesmith makes the turn toward 60 with almost 40 years of recorded history twirling in his gravel dust. The hardscrabble touring warrior isn't mellowing with time, but he is perhaps becoming more reflective about essentials. Replacing the braggadocio of "Time to Get a Gun" are appreciative grandfather's tears considering the "Twin City Mini" resurrected from rust and dust.

Utilizing the same core that has accompanied him since "Tinderbox" near a decade ago - Matty Simpson (guitars) and Kori Heppner (drums) along with Justine Fischer (bass) and Tif Ginn (a variety of stringed and percussion instruments as well as vocals) who have been aboard for several albums - Eaglesmith's approach hasn't changed in as much as it has been refined and perfected.

"Standard" is revealed to have many meanings across its 37-minutes: standard transmissions, of course, but also striving to reach a standard of living that isn't depressed, and setting a standard for your own behavior. Eaglesmith's greatest gift has always been his ability to capture a life within a moment, and each of these 12 songs reflect this component

There's the farmer fixing, harvesting and digging who can't get his mind off "Miss Mary Jane," and the fellow missing an "Old Machine" that has been replaced by one that "is shiny and it sure is new. "Jenny Smith" waits for a letter that will never arrive and pines for a new screen door to "keep the flies off the porch." Someone is nearing the end in "Steam," and things aren't much sunnier on the hardpan farm of "Tom Turkey."

What is revealed are some of Eaglesmith's finest characters, sketches of folks who are attempting to maintain a way of life that has been passed by time, by others, and by circumstance. And then - as Larry Brown did across several novels - just when one figures there is no hope, Eaglesmith rediscovers love. "Watertown" and "Mr. Rainbow" shine with hope and affection, declaration that "I won't be chasing you no more" because he has found the one that will not leave, will not pass him by - and the one he won't forsake.

Eaglesmith once sang, "Only one thing for sure, things is changing." In 1993, it was a lament for a time that couldn't be retrieved. A couple decades later, Eaglesmith has accepted the inevitable and learned to look for magic that exists in daily blessings. What remains consistent is the quality of his songs.