Life's like that
by Kate Conner-Ruben
Trains, traveling, love, loss, violence, and the snapshot views from a highway you'll never go down again Jeffrey Foucault takes these stalwarts of the Americana vernacular and has his own excellent way with them. He's not breaking new ground here (get too outré with this kind of thing and you crack its soul) but Foucault's take on this branch of American roots music is beautifully rendered: literate, spare, and deep as a quarry cut long ago.
Foucault was born and raised in southeastern Wisconsin proving once again that there's a lot to be gained musically by a midwestern nativity. As a teen (not that long ago), he appropriated his dad's mail-order guitar and cut his teeth on a bunch of John Prine tunes. Other early influences were Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, who in turn drew him to explore the fullness of American music: old-tymey country, alt-country, bluegrass, and blues. It didn't surprise me one bit to see Greg Brown listed there amid Foucault's influences.
In 2001 Foucault released his debut album, Miles from the Lightning, and he got some serious and well-deserved attention for it. His newest effort, Stripping Cane, puts twelve songs out to dry in a farmhouse backyard under a big sky, accented with scudding clouds. No drums, no organs, no drenching reverb, no gospel choir Foucault's eloquent everyman words and weary voice are given all kinds of space in which to breathe. Alternately sweet and ominous, his understated guitar work electric, acoustic, National steel, and electric lap steel (not all at once) and an occasional female harmony are about as complex as the arrangements get. Okay, maybe a tambourine.
When Foucault plays the Ark on Tuesday, November 23, I hope he'll do "Doubletree," the second song on this album. I like songs like this, where death comes out of nowhere, for no reason, and no revenge is ever exacted. Life's like that sometimes untidy, wrong. It's a great story song about the men who sweep snow from the tracks, high up in the mountains. I guess they have computerized heaters for that now.
This ain't party music. But you could bake a good loaf of bread while listening to it. Or lie on a porch sofa with an old dog. You could drive a long way, that's for sure.
[Originally published in November, 2004.]