A poet and a rocker reunite to collaborate on an album of no-frills rock and roll, with pleasant results.
Musicians collaborating with poets is not a particularly novel idea in itself, especially in the way Jeffrey Foucault (the music) and Lisa Olstein (the words) do it. Olstein hands in the words and lets Foucault do whatever he pleases with the music, a method reminiscent of great many lyricist/songwriter duos of the past to the point that were it not for the backstory, you couldn’t guess anything was different here –- an impression helped by how Olstein’s poems for their Cold Satellite project are often more like song lyrics in form than anything more freely-flowing. However, it’s the particular direction Foucault takes his part towards that makes Cold Satellite stand out. Olstein’s words are introspective and subtle, often heavy on imagery. Foucault’s music, however, is as direct and open as it could be. Cavalcade is an honest rock and roll album digging deeply into the rich traditions of Americana: a country rock album that believes in the power of the electric guitar.
It’s a very atypical combination but it works, certainly well enough for the artists involved. Cavalcade is the second collaboration between Foucault and Olstein, the first one titled Cold Satellite having been released under Foucault’s own name in 2010 and which has now lent its title to the whole project. It’s also interesting for a particularly lyrically-minded listener: These are not the kind of lyrics you’ve come to expect from this genre and the juxtaposition gives a particular edge to the music. At the same time it never really feels like a poet’s album thanks to how the words actually act as song lyrics rather than trying to be the centre of the attention. The result is a well-made balance between the two sides, neither overshadowing the other but both making it clear that this is a collaboration between two sides.
The no-frills nature of Cavalcade is both its strong and weak side. When it’s done well, honest and straightforward rocking can be a very good thing and for the most part, Foucault and his band do it really well. There’s a great free-spirited feel to the album, the band play great together and Foucault himself has charisma, and the country twang feels timeless. As a set of songs though, it doesn’t particularly bounce out. The quality remains consistent throughout but it only occasionally peaks beyond “nice” and the album does not contain any big songs that would take it further. The best parts of the album are actually its most quiet ones, like the slow swaying country ballad “Glass Hands” and the stripped down closer “Every Boy, Every Blood”. Partly, perhaps, because they’re the moments where the music matches the atmosphere of the lyrics provided, but mostly because they’re parts where Foucault’s presence has the most command. It’s a weird thing to say, but his is a voice born to sing melancholy ballads to lonely hearts and when the tempo slows down and the backing band calm down, the listener suddenly starts taking a whole lot more notice to what’s going on than when the guitars are on full power.
Cavalcade is an easy album to like. It’s a bundle of easy-going, freely-roaming Americana that’s easily approachable by both big time genre fans as well as those who rarely venture there. It’s not covered in extravagant production tricks or fancy instrumental work, but it doesn’t need to be either in order to be a good listen. Not a remarkable listen, though longtime fans of Foucault’s work might disagree there, but one that does somewhat make it understandable why its creators wanted to do continue working together after the first album.