Open Road: From far away comes home

The songs on bluegrass/country-folk group Fred Eaglesmith & The Flathead Noodlers’ latest release, Balin, exude truth, joy, and honesty like few other roots releases I have heard this year, and being a music lover/listener/reviewer in this notably down-home flavored town, this means quite a lot. Starting with “The Building,” Balin’s first song, Eaglesmith’s well-worn and road weary voice draws you into his world, one inhabited by stories of the heartland, of men and women, of work rather than of means, and of living off the earth.
Eaglesmith was born into a family of nine children on a farm in rural Ontario, and consequently most of his material seems to arise from his upbringing. The above-mentioned “The Building” is literally about the construction of a building, but it also is a metaphor for working (or not working in this case) on a relationship. Unaccompanied by instrumentation but bathed in rustic harmonies, Eaglesmith begins, “You could have worked on the building/That I was working on/You could have tried a little harder/Until everyone else was gone,” reproaching a lover on their lack of devotion.
Other songs are as lyrically interesting, although not quite as allusion filled. “Rooster Fight,” for example, is about, you guessed it, a rooster fight. Eaglesmith takes his country accent up a notch on this track, where banjo, acoustic guitar, stand-up bass, and fiddle come together into a slow, simple, amusing yet truthful bluegrass/country tune.
Eaglesmith’s band, The Flathead Noodlers, includes one well-known artist in his own right, Canadian singer/songwriter Willie P. Bennett, once called “the Willie Nelson of Canada.” In the Flathead Noodlers, Bennett provides some expertly played mandolin, harmonica, and backup vocals, adding instrumental flourishes in all the right places. The rest of the group, Skip Wamsteeker on drums, Darcy Yeates on stand-up bass, Dan Walsh on electric baritone guitar, acoustic guitar, and dobro, and Roger Marin on electric and steel guitars, are all extremely talented at what they do as well, but except for instrumental solos which frequent Balin, the focus of the group is naturally on Eaglesmith.
A focus that, I must say, is totally warranted.

Fred Eaglesmith & The Flathead Noodlers w/ The Free Union Farm Boys perform at Starr Hill, Thursday June 12. $12/$10 advance, 8pm.