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Canadian singers dust off new discs

Bruce Springsteen's new disc, "Devils & Dust," may be this week's heralded release, but for another CD dust-up from a blue-collar singer/songwriter, check out the most recent offering from Fred J. Eaglesmith.

"Dusty" is a sharp departure for the Canadian country folk singer/guitarist. Instead of playing with his regular backing band, the Flying Squirrels or his bluegrass outfit, the Flathead Noodlers, he leaves his guitar in its case and instead employs a Wurlitzer Funmaker to accompany his voice.

Producer Scott Merritt adds minimal guitars as a texture over samples and drum loops, replacing the banging bells and stomping percussion of Washboard Hank from Eaglesmith's landmark 1997 disc, "Lipstick, Lies and Gasoline." Merritt's hand is so present that he gets credit on the disc's cover.

Fans needn't fret too much over the minstrel's musical meandering. Eaglesmith is on the road with the Squirrels and plays the House of Rock Friday.

While the unfamiliar instrumentation may be a distraction for hardcore fans, lyrically Eaglesmith treads familiar themes of cowboys, crossroads and lost souls.

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He even includes a longtime staple of his live set, "Crowds," though the keys give the lovelorn lament a lighter touch to complement his croaking voice. At times, "Dusty" seems to be the re-mix of an unreleased Eaglesmith album.

The Ontario troubadour has more in common with The Boss than just a gritty title. Eaglesmith is his usual brooding self on "Dusty," but songs like the title track sound like an outtake from Springsteen's Sept. 11 ode, "The Rising." Likewise, "Whichita" could've been lifted from Springsteen's masterpiece, "Nebraska." Only the Latin-tinged finale, "Carne del Toro," will seem entirely out of place for Fredheads.

With only one disc under her belt buckle, Canadian chanteuse Kathleen Edwards doesn't have the hardcore following her fellow countryman does, though her 2003 debut was a sexy, swaggering harbinger of what could come.

Fans are still waiting, as her sophomore effort, "Back to Me," fails to deliver what was promised.

While "Failer" was packed with quirky tunes that made her sound like Lucinda Williams flirty little sister or Ryan Adams' brilliantly bitter ex, "Back to Me" suffers from similar tempos and familiar choruses.

Edwards' willowy voice is a gift and it gets a proper showing on "Away," where her simple guitar teases with Eric Heywood's pedal steel. All too often, though, she settles for languorous delivery.

Eaglesmith's latest is a testament to the fact he has no desire to make commercially successful records. In that sense, his career mirrors fellow Canadian Neil Young in the 1980s when the singer/guitarist dismounted Crazy Horse for a series of disparate albums. The tracks on "Dusty" are like sketches which more fully appear in other finished works.

"Back to Me," however, suggests Edwards is going to have to do a lot more if she wants fans to return album after album.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter

John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

If you go

What: Fred J. Eaglesmith & the Flying Squirrels and Josh Harty & the Garden Party

When: 9 p.m. Friday

Where: House of Rock, Playmakers, Fargo

Tickets: Tickets for this 21 and older show range from $8 to $15. (701) 232-6767

Reviews

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"Dusty"

Fred J. Eaglesmith

A Major Label

3

Out of four stars

"Back to Me"

Kathleen Edwards

Zo? Records

2

Out of four stars

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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