Album Review: Fred Eaglesmith - “Standard”

Never dull, "Standard" is a fine collection of simple songs by one of the most poetic and honest songwriters around.

With Leonard Cohen having shuffled off this mortal coil folks may be looking for an equally strong songwriter from Canada to listen to and Fred Eaglesmith, long a roots-y songwriter of similar strong storytelling gifts, is here to take up that mantle. Now approaching 60 years old (he’ll hit that mark this year), Eaglesmith has taken a threadbare approach to Standard with spartan musical performances where the lyrics (and sometimes Eaglesmith’s vocal) serve as the star of this show.

Opener “Twin City Mini” is a song about an old tractor while “Flames” finds, at first blush, a man telling of deep despair and heartbreak as he sees his old flame moving on, moving on so much that the flames of the relationship are really burning him (“the flames sure look pretty but they sure do burn”). “Old Machine” is more or less an allegory about life and how the simplicity of things in and from the past were easier to deal with and fix than what’s around now, not unlike relationships.

The twelve song collection that is Standard tells tales of all kinds of people and “Jenny Smith” is the kind of story song about an old hardscrabble woman from a small-town who keeps hope that she’ll hear about her man who left for war never to return and the simple things she wants out of life. “Thermostat” and “Steam” are both songs about men who like simplicity in their life (using machines as metaphors) while “Tom Turkey” is much the same, this time about a simple man in deep heartbreak about many things.

And that’s basically what is great about Fred Eaglesmith. His songs -- like those here on Standard -- aren’t ever going to be compared to the latest and greatest pop hits of the day but they’re likely to live on longer as they speak to something deeper and more: the human condition.