Jeffrey Foucault, The Constitutional Club (Lewes, UK – Feb. 7th 2015)
With every seat taken and standing room only for latecomers, Jeffrey Foucault made a welcome return to Lewes; Billy Conway, with whom he has been touring for the past year or so, accompanied him. Conway plays ‘suitcase drums’ – this is quite literally a drum kit that packs into a suitcase and that case is used on stage as a kick drum. Foucault himself switched between acoustic and electric guitar – the latter, I believe to be a 1955 vintage, added such wonderful texture, particularly to his blues influenced material.
Since releasing, to much critical acclaim, his debut album Miles From the Lightning in 2001, Foucault has explored different musical genres without compromising his reputation as a perceptive and literate songwriter. Although his initial leanings were towards folk music his later explorations, informed by blues and country traditions, have also been praised highly by critics on both sides of the Atlantic. His new album, Salt As Wolves, due for release later this year, is described as “a lean, bold blues record that deftly weaves together disparate strands of sound and experience, raw love and desperate wisdom”. Tonight we had a preview of the new material as nine of the twelve tracks were performed live. Because Foucault is the kind of artist that lets his music do the talking for him and is fairly economical with commentary between songs, I’ll need to wait until I get a copy of the album to be more confident in writing about the focus of his latest collection of material.
I do know though that “Rico” was written about the late Rick Cicalo who played bass on 2006’s Ghost Repeater album but within the lyrics, another friend who died early, bluesman Rainer Ptacek, is also remembered. Foucault later paid a more obvious tribute to Ptacek by covering his song ‘The Farm’ from the album of the same name, which was released posthumously.
“Des Moines” explained Foucault was written after had played a show in Iowa to an almost empty room – no danger of that here in the UK!
I hope I’m right when I say that ‘Blues for Jessie Mae’ pays homage to blues songwriter Jessie Mae Robinson. She was a composer who enjoyed many Billboard chart successes in the post war period writing for artists such as Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and Elvis Presley.
“Jesus Will Fix It for You,” a gospel blues number brought to mind the likes of Reverend Gary Davis whose “There’s Destruction on This Land” was subsequently included in the set list. Foucault and Conway delivered a gritty interpretation of this starkly graphic song.
Approximately half way through the evening, Foucault moved to the front of the stage, off microphone and performed “Northbound 35” solo – that was unexpected.
The fact that Foucault didn’t preface many of the songs with any narrative really didn’t matter to this attentive audience. Close attention was paid to each song and enthusiastic applause greeted the material, new and old alike. One person called out for a request ‘Miles From the Lightning’ and although it wasn’t on the set list and wasn’t one that Conway knew, the pair nevertheless performed it, demonstrating their natural intuitive dynamic.
Closing with the very appropriately titled ‘I Left This Town’ the pair were persuaded to play a final number “Hurricane Lamp”. It is from the forthcoming album and was dedicated to “anybody who is having a hard time…”
Friends in the audience who were seeing Foucault for the first time made a point of telling me afterwards just how much they enjoyed the show. Thanks must also go to promoters Union Music who have built a reputation for putting on some wonderful musicians and this one will undoubtedly go down as a highlight on the 2015 calendar.
Photo credit: Richard Webb