The best seat at the Green River Festival is in the shade along the ridge by the side stage, watching the motionless kiteflyers staring at the outfield sky. Because every year, there's that one sidestage artist that comes out of nowhere, a voice and style fully formed, and -- where did HE come from? -- blows you away. You have no idea who you just missed at the main stage, and you don't care.
Such was the year I discovered Jeffrey Foucault.
Foucault (pronounced foo-kalt) is a scruffy, shy, self-effacing country boy between songs. But once the guitar strum starts, in just a few notes he transforms into a bluesfolk singer songwriter with a mean slide hand and a voice like the weight of a thousand years. Seeing him live is like being present at a field recording. Even in electric form, as in his jangling juke joint blues cover of Chuck Berry classic Tulane, he has an authenticity that you just don't hear more than a couple of times a generation.
As a musician, Foucault is also an intuitive partner. Foucault had come to the Green River Festival that summer as part of Redbird -- a coverfolk trio, with previously-featured Peter Mulvey and coffeehouse folkstar (and eventual Foucault spouse) Kris Delmhorst. The way he used his scratchy Wisconsin blues voice to push and pull his partner's voices like taffy, making something torn and beautiful, sweet and bitter both, out of the three artists' disparate and distinctive styles, was truly extraordinary. Happily, this comes across in recording, too.
A sparse harmony-centered set, then, mostly B-sides and alternate takes, featuring Foucault solo, with Redbird, and with fellow alt-country folkster Mark Erelli: folks my age, all voices on the verge, part of a particular school of third wave coffeehouse folk that's just now hitting their stride.
- Jeffrey Foucault, Nothin' (orig. Townes Van Zandt)
- Jeffrey Foucault, Tulane (orig. Chuck Berry)
- Jeffrey Foucault, Entella Hotel (orig. Peter Case)
- Jeffrey Foucault, Lodi (orig. Creedence Clearwater Revival)
- Redbird, I Gotta Get Drunk (orig. Willie Nelson)
- Redbird, Love Is a Rose (orig. Neil Young)
- Redbird, You Are The Everything (orig. R.E.M.)
- Mark Erelli w/ Jeffrey Foucault, Alright For Now (orig. Tom Petty)
Pick up all of Jeffrey Foucault's work since and including his stellar 2001 debut Miles From the Lightning. Redbird, too. And start booking those folk festivals now, folks: the groundhog may have seen his shadow, but summer's always just around the corner somewhere.
Today's bonus coversongs:
- Norah Jones and the Little Willies swing I Gotta Get Drunk
- Kris Delmhost's amazing gospel cover of tradsong Ain't No Grave
- Previously on Cover Lay Down: