It's hard to understand why Canadian singer/songwriter Fred Eaglesmith isn't better known in the U.S. His gruff vocals, dark lyrics, and classic melodies could be compared to the work of Tom Waits or maybe even fellow Canadian poet Leonard Cohen, but he's never managed to crack the American market despite his relentless touring. His last album, Tinderbox, was allegedly a gospel album, but like all of Eaglesmith's work, it was his own skewed version of gospel. This time out, Eaglesmith set out to make a bossa nova record, but got sidetracked by the sounds of late-'50s/early-'60s rock & roll. The music resonates with sounds of that era -- female backing harmonies, big reverb-drenched guitars, simple chord progressions, and the faux Latin beats referenced in the album's title -- but it's the '50s as seen through Eaglesmith's singular vision. He comes close to a bossa nova on "Tricks," but the twangy guitar is more spaghetti Western than Brazilian. It's a meditation on an unattainable woman with Eaglesmith's vocal capturing the right balance between desire and befuddlement. "Shallow" and "Gone Too Long" has the kind of laid-back, almost Latin funk that the Drifters made good use of. Muted electric piano and subtle congas grace "Shallow," which sports one of the album's best lines: "I could be that shallow too, if only I wasn't in so deep." The Fabulous Ginn Sisters add backing vocals to the bluesy "Gone Too Long." Dreamy B-3 organ gives the track the feel of a midnight cocktail lounge. "Dynamite and Whiskey" channels early Howlin' Wolf as played by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Swampy low-string guitar, Eaglesmith's growling vocal, and a brittle snare drum rhythm add to the sinister vibe. You can't speak of '50s rock without mentioning Elvis, and Eaglesmith wrote two ballads for the album that he imagined the King might sing. "Sliver of the Moon" is marked by shimmering Hawaiian slide guitar and moody electric organ. "Silhouettes" is actually more Willy DeVille than Elvis, but that's not a bad thing. Eaglesmith's lazy slurred vocal has a soulful tone that conveys grief and loss on the brink of a deluge of manly tears. This album probably won't make Eaglesmith a star, but it's another superb album from a criminally overlooked songwriter.
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AllMusic Review by j. poet