Fred Eaglesmith must have known that longtime bass player Ralph Schipper’s last show with the band would be one for the ages, so he decided to record it for posterity. The result of that night in California has yielded this 24-song double-disc of Eaglesmith and his band, the Flying Squirrels (Schipper, William P. Bennett on mandolin and harp, and Washboard Hank on percussion), roaring through two sets of powder keg rockers. It should come with a fuse.
Eaglesmith, who has been recording since 1980, melts down his influences — ’70s rock, ’60s pop, ’50s country — and shapes it into what can be called country music from another country (he’s an Ontario native). Built like a fireplug, and with a center of gravity somewhere well below his feet, Eaglesmith doesn’t quite sing his songs as permit them to erupt from his body, from down deep, where things are not warm and fuzzy but jagged and gritty. Which explains the voice.
The collection serves as a greatest hits package for an artist who has never had one. He opens with “Freight Train” from his 1995 disc Drive-In Movie, setting the rapid-fire, stripped-down tone for the rest of the show. Next up is “105”, the speed he likes to drive at as well as play. “Mighty Big Car”, “White Trash”, the raucous anthem “Time To Get A Gun”, “I Like Trains”, and “Crashin’ & Burnin’” are all here, plus a great breath-catching version of “Spookin’ The Horses”.
Washboard Hank, eyes-abulge as he plays a rubboard made from old auto parts and beats on a metal miner’s helmet using a metal-tipped golf glove, is a sight to behold. If Eaglesmith ever looked behind him during a show, he might never finish the song.