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For Fred Eaglesmith, a little less talk and a lot more songs would do

Club Passim, Cambridge, MA, May 18, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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This was not the typical Fred Eaglesmith gig.

For starters, it was in a folk-based music club instead of a rock club atmosphere for the roots singer. The Canadian singer did not have a band with him either. This was a solo tour.

While there were his usual trademark songs about transportation, as in trains, he seemed more intent on talking and trying to be humorous.

At that, Eaglesmith succeeded a chunk of the time, but the overall effect was that if you were expecting a lot of music from him, you didn't get it. It sort of recalled Billy Bragg - a little too much talk and not enough action.

Eaglesmith mixed up the humor between stories about women and the audience getting a bit too jazzed up early on when he asked if he sounded okay to the idea that violence on television being the real pornography and social issues (he's fine whether you're straight or gay and feels it's no one's business but your own).

Just when Eaglesmith seemed about ready to start a song, he felt compelled to tell a few more jokes or stories. Sometimes it worked, but it also grew frustrating to hear so many stories. You wanted to shout "play the music already, Fred."

When it came to the music, Eaglesmith has a sufficient number of good songs (he started with Freight Train, real good when he did it, and song that became more prominent because it was the title track of Alan Jackson's last CD. Eaglesmith joked that while happy to have the song recorded by Jackson, he was miffed that he didn't release it as a single because that's where the real money is), but the problem was that Eaglesmith's voice was extremely rough and ragged. On Time to Get a Gun which Miranda Lambert recorded, the vocals were very throaty.

When he sang softer and toned it down, his voice was fine and easy on the ears. But far too often, they were on the croaky side and not all that pleasant to listen to. It was as if Eaglesmith were some elderly singer trying to rake in a few dollars as the years floated by, even though that wasn't the case.

Eaglesmith said after the show that he ventures out solo for a few weeks every year, doing his comedy thing. He enjoyed it sufficiently, of course, but next time out, Eaglesmith ought to throw a few more songs into the mix and cut down on the story telling and jokes.