In 2006 I saw Jeffrey Foucault at a house concert during which he sang a song that was unknown to me (I’ve been a fan from way back when he released his first album, 2001’s MILES FROM THE LIGHTNING so am pretty familiar with his canon of work). Upon enquiry he responded by saying that it was A Place for Me in Heaven by a singer/songwriter called Ry Cavanaugh. So I stored away that nugget of information in my memory bank and seven years later was delighted to see that the pair were touring together, here in the UK.
I (mistakenly as it turned out) thought that Cavanaugh would open for Foucault but as soon as he (Cavanaugh) took the sparsely adorned stage at the Prince Albert pub in Brighton, he dispelled that notion. Explaining that he’d sing four songs and then Foucault would sing a few songs followed by an interval after which they would do a ‘shoot out’ by which he meant that one would sing a song and the other would follow with another that had a link (sometimes quite tenuous – my words, not his) to the preceding song. And thus it was…
One microphone, two guitars, two distinctive voices and no monitors made for a night of music stripped back to the bare bones and it was all the more enjoyable for that. I read a quote recently that went something along the lines of ‘if you need special effects on stage, then your music isn’t good enough’ and that very much echoes my own sentiments.
Cavanaugh started off with a song recorded by his band/collective Session Americana called Raking Through the Ashes, a thoughtful lyric that uses the title as a metaphor for trying to rekindle a lost love. Lost Woman written by his father was also included and he finished his set with Townes Van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty. Foucault’s first set was a little longer and after three songs said ‘I’d be lying if I said there was a plan, what do you want to hear?’ That was a cue for the audience to shout out for their favourites and he willing obliged with Cross of Flowers and Train to Jackson.
After the interval, Foucault’s opening shot was Mesa, Arizona, Cavanaugh’s response was Dave Alvin’s Fourth of July (forgive me but I can’t recall the link) Foucault retaliated with Joe Ely’s Indian Cowboy – he’d once opened for Alvin, who’d included this song, recorded by Guy Clark, in his set list. Cavanaugh’s next choice was Barbed Wire, his own composition about love in a politically charged Northern Ireland. Foucault countered with an unrecorded love song…that gives you a flavour of their ‘shoot out’. Some originals, some covers and from what I’ve heard about a couple of other shows on this tour, they are ringing the changes nightly so they do seem to be genuinely challenging each other to come up with the goods…
Together they finished the evening with a gorgeous interpretation of John Prine’s Speed of the Sound of Loneliness but didn’t get away without an encore – Bob Dylan’s I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.
I loved the vibe of the evening – could quite happily have listened to this pair sparring with each other, for even longer. An old favourite, Foucault, a new favourite, Cavanaugh in my favourite Brighton venue (the sound guys here are superb!) – what’s not to like? Jela Webb