Fred in My Head

Synchronicity is alive and well at my house. Loading up the crockpot with the contents of various plastic and metal containers – je suis le maître de la cuisine, mes amis – I was listening to Fred J. Eaglesmith and the Flying Squirrels. It was their double live album from Santa Cruz, CA, called Ralph’s Last Show.

I’m learning to trust my Radio 1 intuition. When the commercials on sports radio got too annoying (cripes, when aren’t they?), and the heads were going to talk OttawaSenatorsHockey! for another seven straight hours anyway, I flipped to CBC 1 and heard that Fred was going to be interviewed. Cool! Now listen up. If you don’t know Fred, you have your earphones plugged in to the wrong hole. He’s the real deal: terrific songwriter, storyteller and singer, with a tight and road-tested band and a fiercely independent nature.

Fred grew up in my neck of the southern Ontario farmbelt (near Alberton, I think). I’d always wondered about his name, and figured out this morning that he belonged to a big Christian Reformed church family – sounds like his background is Dutch, part of the Elgersma crew – that required some wildness to escape from. He’s a rough-cut romantic, scarred by love, burnt by the passing of rural livelihoods, and transfixed by tractors and trains. “Today, Dad, I sold the old John Deere / The man who bought it’s gonna fix it up / And put it in a museum…” His latest album, all of them on his own label, is Milly’s Café, and he’s in good voice.

Fred has a gently fanatical following for his live shows, where he mixes wry storytelling with an ever-changing string of wry, melancholy and exuberant songs like “White Rose Fillin’ Station”, “Pretty Good Guy” and “My Baby’s Got Big Hair!”. His albums are good (and there are lots of ‘em), and his live shows are better. He’s on the road for over 200 shows a year, so you should be able to catch him sometime. You might want to try a ride on the Eaglesmith train, kids, “’cause I like trains / I like fast trains / I like trains / That whisper your name…” 

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