Foucault Keeps Old, Weird Americana Alive
Jeffrey Foucault has been making great albums for umpteen years now and with Salt As Wolves he shows no sign of relenting. He’s always been a poet who, like his friend and contemporary Peter Mulvey, can swing the listener between agonizing pathos and tears of laughter like there’s no tomorrow and those qualities are evident on this latest release, an album recorded in three short days in the wilds of Minnesota.
For the past couple of years the Wisconsin native has been paired with former Morphine drummer Billy Conway whose melodic sense of percussion here enhances the lyrics, responding, anticipating, pushing, pulling and doing all that stuff that percussion can do but too often doesn’t. Foucault is a singer-songwriter, but he’s not just the heart-on-your-sleeve/bearded sad man sitting on a little stool type. He’s got fire in his belly and blues in his soul and it’s both of those that rise to the forefront here, across tunes such as “Oh Mama” and “Blues for Jessie Mae”, both of which recall the bruised, rusted vibe of John Hiatt’s Cross Muddy Waters, but which are darker, dragging the listener deep into the wilderness and exorcising their darkest demons along the way.
The lyrics are like late night conversations that intrude through a half-opened window at the back of the house: Are they threatening? Real? Filled with danger or rage? Or are they sermons warning us to repent before we enter the afterlife? To repent while we still can? It’s hard to know precisely but to we can guess that the pendulum swings somewhere in between.
The rendering of the traditional number “Jesus Will Fix It For You” (arranged by Jesse Mae Hemphill) carries with it a burn that is brighter than a thousand fires stoked by repeated airings of Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. In all the song clocks in at just under five minutes, but it feels as though the whole band—including bassist Jeremy Moses Curtis and guitarist Bo Ramsey—hangs on each note for what feels like an eternity. And it is good.
Foucault’s love of John Prine is never far from him and here it’s most clear to hear on the gorgeous “Hurricane Lamp”, which isn’t so much sung as breathed, the music seeming to come from somewhere that is beyond this world and from something that is beyond human. It’s the kind of thing that Foucault has always done best and does now even better than before. But it’s his soul-driven “You Are a Fool (And I Love You)” that demonstrates the full reach of Foucault’s talents and proves that he’s far from an Americana workhorse.
Elsewhere, “Rico” and “Des Moines” charm and impress make for the some of the catchiest material on the record, while “Paradise” is the record’s most haunting and maybe the one that most readily captures the spirit of Foucault’s earliest work. Also joining in on this release is Caitlin Canty on backing vocals. Foucault produced her 2015 LP Reckless Skyline, a record that’s as fine and memorable as this one. But then you could say that about anything to which Jeffrey Foucault lends his talents.
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