Fred Eaglesmith and the Flying Squirrels
Live in Santa Cruz — Ralph’s Last Show
Signature Sounds/A Major Label
The title of this disc refers to the fact that Ralph Schipper, Fred’s friend since childhood and longtime bass player, retired from the road last year, playing his final Eaglesmith show in one of the premier U.S. venues for Eaglesmith and his crew, the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, CA. The Kuumbwa Jazz Center. draws larger and more appreciative crowds than many of the smaller U.S. venues that Eaglesmith and his band of Squirrels are used to playing. Eaglesmith has been known to sell out these California dates, and has been booking multi-night shows at this venue whenever he swings through town, with many of his loyal local Fredheads showing up at every single show.
This two CD collection is drawn from two shows from last year, and is the final official document of a band configuration that Fred used for a number of years here in the U.S. As a testament to Schipper’s contribution to the band, three new musicians were brought on board after Schipper’s departure. A trio of young musicians, consisting of an electric bass player, a lap steel player, and a drummer were added to a band whose musicianship and tight vocal harmonies ( not to mention their ability to follow a songwriter who reportedly does not work from a set list ) helped establish Eaglesmith in the U.S. as one of the best songwriters of our time.
The material contained on this disc provides a pretty good retrospective of Eaglemith’s 20-plus year history, and is still very representative of a show that you’d go see today if Fred comes to your town. Some of it goes pretty far back into his discography, but a very healthy amount of it was drawn from his last four albums, the last three of which left us with Eaglesmith headed off in a more rock and roll direction. There are a couple of new songs which make their recording debut here, including a recent live favorite titled “White Trash.”
The live treatment of even Eaglesmith’s later originally studio-recorded songs is probably still more akin to his earlier work — which took a more raw folk approach than have his recent studio offerings. This should make this recording even more appealing to the long-time fans. It’s also pretty powerful in some other ways. This recording finds Fred almost screaming out the lyrics on some of the songs. Likely because Eaglesmith is totally capable of giving just as much energy as he gets from a crowd. His delivery can almost border on some sort of punk country at times. While it isn’t the norm for Fred to be screaming out a song, if you add this delivery to a song about people to whom screaming is more the norm, and it takes his art to a whole ‘nother level. Isn’t a style of singing that could be maintained for very long without blowing out some vocal chords, but it’s really good to have a snapshot of these performances.
Who knows what direction Fred will take us in on the next studio album? Fred sorta does what he wants — when he wants to — and he’s usually right in what he delivers to the public, as he is here.