Fred Eaglesmith may sound like another hardened Texas singer/songwriter, but he originally hails from Ontario, Canada. Ralph's Last Show finds him performing a live, two-disc set, featuring both old and new material, in Santa Cruz, CA. Things get started with "Freight Train" and "105," two hard-driving acoustic numbers, featuring Eaglesmith's rough-hewed vocals and down-to-earth lyrics. The poignant "Alcohol and Pills" takes a straight-ahead look at the substance abuse of performers like Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. The song wryly notes, "Fame doesn't take away the pain, it just pays the bills, and you wind up on alcohol and pills." The day-to-day life of migrant workers is explored in "Carmelita," a song once covered by the Cowboy Junkies. With his angry voice and driving sound, Eaglesmith's music might be described as aggressive acoustic. He nonetheless aptly handles more sensitive material like "Livin' on the Road," a poignant portrait of a lonely life, and "Carter," a heartfelt tribute to bluegrass legend Carter Stanley. The small backing band, while mostly acoustic, makes a big sound. Willie P. Bennett adds tasteful flourishes of dobro and mandolin on cuts like "He's a Good Dog" and "I Like Trains." Bennett, Washboard Hank, and Ralph Schipper (the "Ralph" who is playing his last show) also fill out the sound with some fine harmony. Of course one wouldn't want to miss Eaglesmith's humorous side, finely displayed on "White Trash," a song that ponders the joys of downward mobility. Ralph's Last Show finds Eaglesmith in his element, and will be appreciated by fans and anyone who enjoys literate singer/songwriters.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2