Jeffrey Foucault, “Ghost Repeater” [Signature Records EXZ164]

A True Gift
 

 

         

November, 2006

“Hearing someone sing a cappella is like hearing someone whispering at another table in a restaurant. You know something important is being imparted and you can’t take your ear away.” -- Joe Henry, Album Producer

So it is with the artistry of Jeffrey Foucault: you know something important is being imparted at every turn of delicate phrase and in every indelible poetic moment, and it is impossible to take your ears (or heart) away. At this summer’s Boston Folk Festival produced by full time folk radio station WUMB-FM (www.wumb.org based at UMass Boston), I met up with Jim Olsen, President of Signature Sounds Recordings. Upon asking him to recommend a new recording, he literally pressed this disc by Foucault into my hand. I went home and fell spellbound into the landscape that Foucault paints on this recording. His is a singular talent, an important new voice, with a poetic vision grappling with the breadth of human experience, battling with the razor’s edge of where we are and where we are going. Foucault states it best: “If you tell me where you’re going, I’ll tell you where you’re bound.”

Foucault weaves many elements into his music, combining a dusty, melodic baritone with lyrics that cut to the bone within a stew of blues, folk and country melodies. The musicians who join Foucault on this journey lend an atmosphere that is beautiful to behold. All instruments are recorded with a striking intimacy and naturalness of tone. There are the majestic colors lent by Bo Ramsey’s electric and resonator guitars, providing the underlying musical canvas for Foucault’s stories. There is the fragility of Kris Delmhorst’s tender backing vocals on several of Foucault’s simple yet gorgeous love songs. Every strand of Rick Cicalo’s stand up bass or Eric Heywood’s pedal steel guitar provides a perfect and stately foil for Foucault to work his artistry.

And what artistry we have here! Foucault’s lyrics are immediate and sensory. “Ghost Repeater” is a brilliant collection of songs with some hitting like a shot of ice water on the face and others feeling like the sweet languorous feel of honey on the tongue. The recording opens with the title cut that combines biting sarcasm with swinging guitar lines, punctuated by Dave Moore’s airy accordion. Look below the surface and you will find the nuggets of Foucault’s vision of today’s Americana:

“And a gold toothed smile
Where the dreams pile up
All washed out and broken
As thick as the stars on the Miracle Mile.”


In the same vein, we have Foucault moving from country swing to deep, slow blues to discharge his vision of political and street violence in “Wild Waste and Welter,” a poetic condemnation that is both hardboiled and harrowing:

“They throw tickertape on Main St.
There’s a hero in every car
Singing ‘Down with the Traitor
Up with the star!”

The night riders of Rohan in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings are nothing compared to Foucault’s gripping vision of those performing door to door searches here, with “lamp black eyes” where “the instruments of mercy are foreign to their hands.” When Foucault warns- “the acorn fells the oak tree”- is there a deep resonation with present circumstances of war and occupation of foreign lands? Ramsey too lays down some deep, brewing guitar behind this picture of slow burning mayhem. Likewise, in the fable of “Train To Jackson,” Foucault aims his acute social lens to human isolation and injury along the modern road. Keeping pace with him is Ramsey slipping and sliding out of each verse with deep, brooding guitar colors.

Juxtaposed to these slow, probing barnburners are Foucault’s equally magnificent way with songs of love and remembrance. His love songs are tender and delicate, yet filled with the honesty of human compromise and give and take. In “One For Sorrow,” a young couple begins a journey to the accompaniment of Foucault’s jangled strums, Delmhorst’s filigree and swaying pedal steel guitar turns. Riding with his bride on that wedding night:

“The Perseids were falling
in that hothouse August night
I saw two come down together
and I thought it looked about right.”


The beautiful way Foucault has with the simple love song is heard in the upbeat “City Flower” but he returns to themes of bitter sweetness in love and longing in both “One Part Love” and “Mesa, Arizona.” These two are such gorgeous pieces of lyricism and musical accompaniment that you will not soon forget their impact. From the “sun gone down in the pale thin pink,” to “your eyes are full of train smoke and your mouth tastes like rain” Foucault offers vivid and vital images for the listener to explore and contemplate. The beautiful contrast between long held pedal steel notes with wonderful decay and Foucault’s crisply strummed acoustic guitar is fully realized in “One Part Love,” one of the most heartfelt anthems to the ephemeral qualities of love and friendship that I have heard in a long time. Equally true is “Tall Grass In Old Virginny,” a cinematic encapsulation of a good friend’s reckless and rich life. The recording ends with the appropriate “Appeline,” combining all of the finest ingredients of this most artistic and masterful achievement. To the long, wistful chords of Ramsey’s guitar, Foucault sings of the juxtaposition of our modern lives, where “they’ll grind your bones to dust in this American machine” but also, where love (like Foucault’s brilliant music here) is a true gift:

“I’ve got a girl named Appeline
Prettiest thing I’ve ever seen
There’s no fire that burns
So cool or so clean
As my Appeline.”



We welcome any suggestions for audiophile recording gems. Please write to nelsonbrill@stereotimes.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ascendo