Canadian icon Fred Eaglesmith appears to have been inspired by the roots of rock and roll on his latest release, "Tambourine." Renowned in his home country for both his songwriting and his entertaining live shows, he follows in the footsteps of fellow Canuck, Neil Young, in that he never appears to feel content to release the same album twice. Throughout the years, he has toured with a variety of musicians in tow, including the late Willie P. Bennett, and adopted a variety of personas, including the bluegrass focused Flathead Noodlers and the folk rock Flying Squirrels. The current incarnation of his band is steampunk themed and accompanies a shift in style toward a lo-fi rock and roll sound over his past three releases. This time around Eaglesmith channels his sound into an exploration of music of the 1960s, with nods to soul, surf and guitar driven dance numbers.
The album kicks off with a melancholy sounding track, What It Takes. The sense of mournfulness that pervades the song is cemented by the lyrics, which contain a list of all of the things that he would do to hold someone in his arms again. The track moves along at a steady pace, focused on a captivating guitar riff. The tempo picks up on the follow up with a strong surf song, which is playful and fun as it chastises those who are complaining about young people having fun. Can't Dance could have been on the soundtrack to "Footloose" if it had been set a couple decades earlier.
The rollercoaster slows down again on the somber Engineer and rises again on That's What You Do. The song leans more toward Bob Seger than Stax Records, but it still revolves around the strong soul base. Eaglesmith expresses confusion with a member of the opposite sex on Nobody Gets Everything, which is elevated by an upbeat organ and bold backup vocals. He deftly moves from a slow, soft sway on one track into an easy rockabilly jump on the next.
Eaglesmith has always chosen to take the creative road with his music, avoiding mainstream success and building a solid fan base in the alternative underground. His 20th release blends the voice that fans have grown to love with the wry sense of humor and dark themes woven throughout his discography. His sound is rooted in the '60s on this release, but this is classic Fred Eaglesmith. It exudes a creative confidence and carefree attitude that can only come with decades of time spent in the music industry. "Tambourine" is a loveable release from an artist approaching his fourth decade in the business, a love letter to the southern origins of rock and roll and Memphis soul.