Fred Eaglesmith Dusty

It may be hard to imagine Fred Eaglesmith as anything but the grassroots troubadour he’s come to be revered as. But Dusty (a reunion with producer Scott Merritt who helmed Eaglesmith’s breakthrough mid-’90s albums), immediately proves to be a radical departure, and a thoroughly welcome one. It’s not that Eaglesmith’s songwriting style is altered at all; the material is still anchored by his dead-on portrayals of small-town isolation and the desperate behaviour that stems from it. What’s changed is that Eaglesmith seems to have given Merritt free reign with instrumentation and arrangements, and it’s telling that Merritt receives equal billing on the cover. While waves of keyboards, strings and subtle sampling will probably turn off much of Eaglesmith’s die-hard following used to hearing him with his rough-edged live band, what is most impressive about Dusty is Eaglesmith’s willingness to put aside the relative safety of that sound for one that aims for classic Memphis blue-eyed soul. It doesn’t exactly achieve this goal. Instead the album could be the equivalent of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska if it had been recorded with ProTools. The title track and "I-75” most evoke this stark impression, but others, like "Rainbow,” resemble lost Lambchop experiments. In general though, Dusty sounds and feels like it didn’t achieve Eaglesmith’s original intention. But in the process, he and Merritt created something entirely different, and like a newborn colt, beautiful in its own awkward way. (A Major Label)