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Fred Eaglesmith

Milly's Cafe – 2006 (A Major Label)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Fred Eaglesmith

Canadian though he may be, Fred Eaglesmith has a well-deserved reputation for the kind of eagle-eyed, story-based songwriting that indelibly etches characters who may - make that do, come to think of it - exist in real time both north and south of the border and at any number of gravel road, two-bit roadhouses in between, be they in the endless expanses of Kansas or the unrelenting wastelands of West Texas. Sit quietly listening in any dive like Milly's of the title song, and you'll likely come to know the same cast of characters that Eaglesmith artfully brings to life: truckers smothering heartache with grain alcohol ("18 Wheels"); cowboys dying of cancer from a lifetime of chewing ("Rocky"); the very same Milly and her boyfriend who turn to robbing banks when the business goes bust, and many more.

Eaglesmith writes and sings about these people with unflinching understanding, conviction and clarity. Make no mistake, this is not upbeat, romantic music about happy, well-adjusted people, but Eaglesmith manages to make them interesting, compelling and ultimately, believable and real. It's all the more effective with the underpinning of Eaglesmith's low-key delivery and phrasing that's reminiscent of a hinterlands version of Springsteen - though truth be told, Eaglesmith's a better writer than The Boss. If you're not already an Eaglesmith fan, this is about a good a start as you're gonna get.