Jeffrey Foucault (pronounced FOH-kult) released his critically acclaimed debut Miles from the Lightning in 2001. Touring to support this album since then, Foucault has played with Guy Clark, Greg Brown, Chris Smither, Kelly Jo Phelps, Gillian Welch, Richard Buckner, Rosanne Cash, and John Hammond, among others. He also collaborated with his friends Peter Mulvey and Kris Delmhorst to create the 2003 album of mostly cover songs Redbird. Finally, in 2004, Foucault released his long-awaited sophomore solo follow-up, Stripping Cane. Expect this album to generate more buzz and more of the same accolades for this young singer-songwriter.
Foucault is the master of an introspective, sometimes dark, mood. Sparse instrumentation on both his albums is the rule. On Stripping Cane, a drum appears just once---only on the title song, and then barely noticeable. The album is dominated by acoustic instrumentation by Foucault and multi-instrumentalist David Goodrich. Fellow Redbird collaborators Mulvey and Delmhorst occasionally lend their backing vocals, as does Anita Suhanin (Groovasaurus and Shwang). Foucault's distinctive rich voice and guitar work is dominant in the mix, as it rightly should be. Credit goes to producer David Goodrich (Chris Smither, Peter Mulvey, Rose Polenzani), who carried these strengths over from the first album.
If there is a fault to Miles from the Lightning, it is that the sparse album was too much for the listener. The one relatively upbeat track I'm Alright comes too late in the album for any refreshment. Fortunately, Stripping Cane avoids this weakness. The album is more bluesy, is consistently more melodic, is sequenced better, and possesses more variety than its predecessor . That's why I think Stripping Cane has the ability to be the breakout album for Foucault's career.
The album opens with Cross of Flowers, about returning home to an abandoned rural setting. Whereas the opener is reminiscent of the dark imagery on Miles from the Lightning, the second jolts us into rocking country blues about the short lifespan of a Mayfly. Foucault explains that the tune was a result of trying the figure out the first few bars of Freight Train in an open tuning in a Texas hotel room, and hitting the wrong note repeatedly. This "mistake" is a lucky one for listeners —Mayfly is one of my favorites on the album. The song's lyrical simplicity, coupled with Foucault's and Goodrich's funky guitar work, brings a lightness that is uncharacteristic of Foucault's earlier work. This upbeat vibe appears again on 4&20 Blues, a 12-bar blues with Foucault playing slide guitar. The song, another highlight of the album, rocks with a ferocity unsurpassed on either of his two albums.
Foucault also shows his mastery of the murder ballad in Doubletree. For this song, Foucault assumes the persona of a man hired to keep the mountain snow off railroad tracks for the coal trains. This song has an interesting twist, however, that I won't reveal here. (Curious readers can read the lyrics for themselves on Foucault's web site.) Stripping Cane also includes a fiddle-driven cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's Lodi, with backing vocals and fiddle work by Delmhorst.
Foucault sings with a maturity of someone twice his age of 28. Consider the title track, about trying to obtain the sweetness through the hard work of stripping the leaves from the sugar cane plant.
Those who like the deep-voiced blues of Kelly Jo Phelps will not be disappointed with Jeff Foucault. Between his two albums, Stripping Cane is definitely my favorite and the one I would recommend as the first purchase for new fans. This album will go a long way to solidifying Foucault's reputation nationally as an exceptional singer-songwriter.
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