Music

Josephine Foster's 'Faithful Fairy Harmony' Will Carry Listeners to a Far-off Fairytale Realm

Photo: M Borthwick / Courtesy of Fire Records

Faithful Fairy Harmony finds Josephine Foster scouring enchanted realms to create a puckish musical vim and sylphish harmonic verve.

Faithful Fairy Harmony
Josephine Foster

Fire

16 November 2018

Whimsy and fortitude have always found a balance within Josephine Foster's music. A folk scene veteran, Foster's music is defined by its ability to procure folly and grace from unexpected soundscapes. Her most recent release, Faithful Fairy Harmony, finds Foster scouring enchanted realms to create puckish musical vim and sylphish harmonic verve. If one could score magical realism, Faithful Fairy Harmony is the penultimate soundtrack. Accompanying herself on guitar, piano, organ, harp, autoharp, the 18-track double LP affirms Foster's stellar musicality.

Faithful Fairy Harmony showcases Foster's vocal dexterity redolent of her oeuvre. The album opens with "Soothsayer Song" featuring a harp's ascending harmony eventually meeting Foster's imperfect vocals. Her voice intentionally warbles evoking Edith Piaf's essence while setting the album's chimeric atmosphere. Her gentle humming on "The Virgin in the Snow" strengthens into notes illustrating her vocal finesse and precision. Trained as an opera singer, Foster's range on Faithful Fairy Harmony is remarkable. Especially on "Eternity" and "Challenger", she unapologetically use her vocals to emote then jubilate. Throughout the album, her vocal delivery is empowered yet haunting. Accompanied by uncomplicated instrumentation and never overproduced, Faithful Fairy Harmony is demonstrative of Foster's arresting vocals.

Foster is a wordsmith and her narratives verge on prose. She conjures bewitching imagery, and her lyrics create a sorcerous energy. Consider the mysticism inundating from the opening track: "Come all you young children / across the world / and see what your fortune portends." From the album's first moments, she lures the listeners into her world then sustains a dazzling effect. Utilizing harps, soprano vocals, and a multitude of string instruments, the music constructs a fairy realm. This is the unequivocal intent in "Shepard Moon on a Starry Night". The music, lyrics, and vocals create an evident parallel pushing the natural world to the peripheral. The cacophony created by Victor Herror's Portuguese guitar, Gyða Valtýsdóttir's cello, and Foster's organ ushers in an enchanted and magical sound.

Throughout Faithful Fairy Harmony, Foster's music resembles lyrical poetry. The first person narrative in "Pining Away" enshrines her perspective while exhibiting an intense emotion. The track cascades in sentiment when she sings, "though a maelstrom makes you leave like a tree / I bend toward thee / a damsel down on bended knee / my knotty heart she bleeds and bleeds." As many lyrical poems, Foster's gaze is cast internally thereby providing a clear image of her own heart and mindset. Similarly, "I was Glad's" depiction of concession and revelation echoes Sylvia Plath's confessional style lyrical poems. Ending the album with the title track, Foster's harp playing makes it easy to visualize her as the muse Erato. Much as Erato strummed her lyre to summon the powers of music and poetry, Foster also uses music and lyrics to convene deep personal emotions. However, Foster is not about to take herself too seriously. She incorporates a kazoo, adding a layer of fancifulness over the track's solemnity.

Foster aficionados expect her albums to cast a wide reach across the musical spectrum. Indeed, Faithful Fairy Harmony is a musical amalgam ranging from spirituals, ballads, confessionals, prayers, and blues. "All Pales Next to You" returns Foster to a traditional folk sound while the subsequent "Lord of Love's" percussion creates an Eastern European, almost gypsy-like, quality. The balance of voice and guitar on "Little Lamb" recalls her 2006 foray with German art songs. Yet at times, albeit infrequently, the quintessential fairy tale harmonics are somewhat gimmicky. It's impossible not to imagine Snow White singing to birds or Sleeping Beauty frolicking in the forests with critters. Foster is not to blame for the Disneyfication of ballad and folk music nor the audiences' singular understanding of fairy tale scores. Faithful Fairy Harmony is, in fact, a useful tool for expanding musical awareness.

As such, Foster uses her dazzling vocals and adroit musicality to explore the depth of musical culture while showcasing her copious talent. Faithful Fairy Harmony will certainly carry listeners to a far-off fairytale realm.

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