Award-winning, acclaimed singer-songwriter Fred Eaglesmith is set to release his 18th studio album, Standard, on January 27th.
“The album is more narrative than musical. The vocals have not been re-tuned, either automatically or manually and sometimes they are a little sharp or flat. On some of the tracks you can hear the quiet hiss of reel-to reel-tape. It is a less than perfect album,” Eaglesmith said.
And that’s just what Eaglesmith wanted. The 12-track collection of new original material takes it moniker from a few meanings of the word standard.
Standard transmission refers to a Zen term. And there are different transmissions: oral transmission and written transmissions. In Zen, transmission vaguely refers to the process of Zen knowledge being handed down through lineage that traces back to the Buddha. There is also Dharma transmission, a custom of community teaching each other. This is considered a low grade transmission, and more family oriented.
“Tongue-in-cheek Standard is even lower. It refers to having things put into place for you – like gears (on a vehicle standard transmission). This is the simplest and least innovative way of learning or teaching. It is my term for staying in the box. The people on this album want to stay in the box but they can’t.”
Standard starts with “Twin City Mini,” the story of an antique Minneapolis-Moline tractor, rusty and barely running but still in the parade. It then continues with other broke down machines or relationships on tracks like “Old Machine,” a narrative of the cycle of old versus new, as well as “Flames,” a soulful lament to an ex-lover. These machines and relationships are watched over by ordinary people usually caught up in passionate preferences but often missing a wrench or a set of pliers. Many of them need “just one more thing” to make it right. Time to get warmed up is what’s coveted on “Thermostat,” and on “Jenny Smith,” the chorus pleads for a new screen door.
“These characters are fairly optimistic that they can get things working again. Meanwhile in the background of the song narratives you can hear the fiddles straining just a little out of pitch against the creak of an unedited snare drum. Sometimes the parade gets cacophonous.
“All of this, of course, might have been corrected with a computer and a mouse. But as is often the case with old machines, there is no manual. So you simply have to guess at how to set the timing. Sometimes you’ll swear to yourself that guess is better than the actual specifications. Sometimes you’ll just have to be happy with the imperfection.”
1) Twin City Mini
2) At Your Door
4) Old Machine
5) Jenny Smith
6) Tom Turkey
7) Miss Mary Jane
10) Off the Dam
12) Mr. Rainbow