Jeffrey Foucault’s Horse Latitudes passes the test
I call it the road test. I can tell how great a new CD is by using this method.
That’s when I put a new CD in the car’s deck and its rating is determined by how long it stays in there, playing over and over, day after day. There’s something very intimate about being in this bubble, just you, the artist and the open road.
It may seem like an odd way to rate a release but, for me, it makes sense. You get to see how it plays on long, late-night drives down the interstate, how it wears in downtown rush-hour traffic.
Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind is the reigning champ with 3 months, two weeks and a couple of days.
Levon Helm’s Dirt Farmer cranked out for two months, the Decembrists’’ most recent release was rated at three weeks and a day. M. Ward’s new one earned about 10 days. Jeffrey Foucault’s Cold Satellite made it six weeks this winter.
Foucault’s new one, Horse Latitudes – with a May 4 release date on Signature Sounds – will undoubtedly hijack my deck for most of the coming summer.
Foucault? He’s not Dylan or Helm? Or is he?
Even for a most pedestrian fan of Americana music, Jeffrey Foucault‘s releases are essential to round out any collection. His music brings to life images of steam rising off still rivers just before the dawn, love letters burned by fire and lives of rusted loneliness on the Iron Belt.
Originally from Whitewater, Wis., his Midwestern sensibility plays strongly in his words and music. If you’ve ever heard his Northbound 35, there’s no doubt about where this singer-songwriters’ talents spring from.
Foucault is Americana music at its essence.
He’s relocated to western Massachusetts and lives with his singer-songwriter wife Kris Delmhorst. That’s a blessing for music fans in the Northeast Corridor as he regularly plays coffee shop, pubs and clubs around the region. Whether it’s Club Passim in Cambridge, the Vanilla Bean in rural Pomfret, Conn., Joe’s Pub in NYC or the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, fans have the chance to see Americana music at it finest right in their back yards. No second mortgage or standing on line for tickets. Foucault is Americana music up close and personal, and so sweetly accessible.
Since stumbling over Foucault a couple years ago, he seems to have gone into high gear production-wise. In the last 18 months or so he has released no less than five separate offerings.
All distinctly different, all pure Foucault.
In 2009, he warmed up with Shoot the Moon Right Between the Eyes, a tribute to John Prine. This followed 2006’s Ghost Repeater, produced by legendary Bo Ramsey.
And 2010 was a banner year with three separate CDs – Seven Curses with Mark Erelli, a live Redbird release with Delmhorst, Peter Mulvey and guitarist extraordinaire David “Goody” Goodrich, and the earthshaking, aforementioned Cold Satellite.
Not a bad year.
Cold Satellite is worthy of multiple Grammys and would be the capstone to most careers, but Foucault keeps getting better.
With the pending release of Horse Latitudes, Foucault has combined the charm and genius of Cold Satellite with the verve of his phenomenal Ghost Repeater.
Foucault is prolific and so much more. Horse Latitudes is, after all his ninth release since 2001.
Catching two shows in 12 days allowed for a healthy preview of Horse Latitudes. At Passim, he brought with him Billy Conway on drums (formerly of Morphine), Jeremy Moses-Curtis on bass, and guitarist-steel pedal session superstar Eric Heywood ( Son Volt, Joe Doe).
In the tiny underground confines of the predominately folk venue, Foucault and gang tore the room up with the soaring pedal-steel of Heywood, tight-knit rhythms of Conway and Moses-Curtis, and as always, Foucault’s mesmerizing vocals.
He and the band ripped through at least seven of Horse Latitudes’ 10 offerings and made believers out of those who had never heard the songs before.
A couple of tunes, Starlight and Static, and Heart to the Husk, have been on Foucault’s set list for at least the past year and the studio treatment captures the sweetness, the sadness of the live versions.
My favorite is Heart to the Husk with these simple lyrics and profound questioning.
“Please burn my letters
Let them writhe
The love and the Lack
Let blue meet the black
Let my words become Fire,
I burned your letters
Cold or kind
By a river at dusk
From the heart to the husk
Every word became Fire.
We dream our love
For a while
Into flesh out of dust
The rage and the rust
All gone as it came
Please tell me something
I want to know
Where does love go?”
Beautiful, simple and deep.
That sums up Horse Latitude and the power and talent of Jeffrey Foucault.
Americana music at its best.
Joel Barrett is a 30 year newspaper professional living in the Boston area. For high-definition videos clips of Jeffrey Foucault’s performance at Passim, go to Joel Barrett’s Facebook page.