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Fred Eaglesmith 

Thursday, May 1; Off Broadway

Fred J. Eaglesmith's new label, AML, is a joke. "AML" stands for "A Major Label," and the joke is on a music industry so bloated, corrupt and out of touch that no amount of wooing and weaseling could land the likes of Eaglesmith.

"I was born in the year of a '57 Chevy," the Ontario native sings on a recent homage to Indian motorcycles, but he has more on his mind than another car song. Fenders, gears, clutches and brakes -- for Eaglesmith, music and life are a junkyard where imagination and hard work alone might rebuild rusted and burned-out hearts. That's not a point of view you'll hear on country radio (Alan Jackson's cars and boats handle like clichés), and rock radio has little use for the stories of working people, the rebel yells of desperate kids and the wide-open reveries of lovers.

On his latest release, Falling Stars and Broken Hearts, Eaglesmith turns in a cycle of gnawing and lilting, scrapping and scraping visions of souls laying everything -- their work, their hopes, their kin, even their cars -- on the line. Eaglesmith has never sounded more deeply country -- pedal steel and shuffling rhythms abound -- or more clearly at home. (One complaint: What's with the PC-only enhanced CD-ROM? Surely some Fredheads use Macs.) If this description makes him sound too heavy for a night on the town, don't be misled. Onstage, Fred rocks like a fleet fresh off the assembly line, and his wit will have you in stitches -- until "Water in the Fuel" or "Your Sister Cried" rips them right open again.

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