One of the reasons I like live shows so much is you get a true sense of the artist. You hear the real musician, not what an engineer or producer decides you should hear. You also get to see their real talent. Take Emmylou Harris, for example. Unbelievably, that crystal clear, mesmerizing, audible perfection of a voice is hers. It’s not the result of electronics, it’s the real deal, and you respect her even more when you hear it live. But that’s not to say it’s the best persona for every song. For instance, I just can’t imagine her singing "you’re spooking the horses, and you’re scaring me." That brings me around to Fred Eaglesmith .
He and his band played the Little Fox Theatre just south of San Francisco. Fred’s voice, which has that whiskey drinker roughage on his recordings is, umm, a little coarser live. Like gravel rolling around in a cement mixer. But that voice, well, when he sings about a woman "Spookin’ the Horses", it carries that edge of fear that communicates what it’s like to be out of control in a situation. Same thing for "I Like Trains" or "49 Tons". There’s an authenticity to the story that comes from a voice that sounds like it really lived the tales he’s telling. Bona fide, a buddy of mine would call it.
Another highlight of the show was when he brought out his 1931 National Steel Guitar. Along with Mattie Simpson on 4-string banjo that certainly looked like it was built about the same time, Fred and the band created the sense of an era. Singing about Hank Williams on "Alcohol and Pills", it was like an audio version of one of those old news reels they used to show many, many, many years ago before the movie in a theater.
Add all of that to Fred’s finely honed story-telling skills and serrated-knife political commentary and I left the show knowing I’d had a real experience, and one I hope to be able to see again.
About the author: Support new music. Listen to a band or singer you've never heard of this week. I've been doing that for over 30 years.