Even in rural New England, Midwestern values guide singer Jeffrey Foucault
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Jeffrey Foucault kissed his wife and daughter goodbye last week and hit the road. Far from the loving arms of his family, Foucault is extolling the virtues of hearth and home and a rural lifestyle on tour in support of “Blood Brothers,” due out June 22. To pursue one great passion, making music, he must take leave of his other, his family.
Jeffrey Foucault; Dusty Heart
When: 8 p.m. June 17
Where: City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph
Foucault has roamed far from his Whitewater, Wisconsin, roots. Buckland, Massachusetts, a “model train set” of a town of about 2,000 people and bountiful trout streams in the Berkshires, is where he now hangs his trademark hats. He and his wife, Kris Delmhorst, a talented singer-songwriter in her own right who often tours with Foucault, sometimes with their 10-year-old daughter Hazel in tow, compromised on their locale, he joked. “I moved 1,000 miles east and she moved 100 miles west.” But the Midwestern sensibilities that have informed his music throughout his 17-year recording career are still evident on “Blood Brothers.”
Moving east “may have changed my music in a very particular way,” he acknowledged. “I still feel all my songs come from the Midwest, but they live in the Midwest on an existential plane where Midwesterners operate, if you know what I mean.”
It’s not always easy to grasp the meaning of Foucault’s songs, either. The densely layered tales of longing and loss, beauty and simple pleasures, challenge his fans to seek out some deeper message. He’s asked whether “Cheap Suit,” a “Blood Brothers” tune, is the singer examining his own life with regret. “That song’s a pretty straight autobiography about growing up and watching my dad’s frustration about not doing what he wanted,” Foucault corrected. “He was a musician, a trumpet player, but … he worked a grocery job.”
His dad may get to hear the song live Sunday if he accepts Foucault’s invitation to attend his City Winery show on Father’s Day. If not, at least he’ll have his longtime backing band for moral support.
He’s touring with Bo Ramsey from Lucinda Williams’ band on electric guitar, Eric Heywood of the Pretenders on pedal steel, Booker T. Jones sideman Jeremy Moses Curtis on electric bass and Billy Conway of Morphine on drums. It’s essentially the same ensemble with which Foucault recorded 2015’s “Salt as Wolves,” a darker, more brooding album that improbably climbed the blues charts.
He lightened things up, both thematically and musically, for “Blood Brothers” because, “I’m reluctant to repeat myself or try to re-create experiences. The subject matter when you’re dealing with the blues tends to be life and death. We did that last record in the style of a blues combo record. That’s the style of recording I really love.”
On “Blood Brothers” Foucault paints an idyllic country landscape, building on the theme of “Dishes,” the opening number. He sings, “Take the back roads, with nobody on them/Find a river, make yourself clean. Go down to the water, if you would be delivered/Of sinner and sin, seen and unseen.”
To Foucault, the most compelling aspect of rural life is numerical. “There’s fewer people,” he observed. “My brother Billy is fond of pointing out that there are few problems in the world that wouldn’t be fixed by having less of us. He’s probably right about that. I’m lucky to have a job where it doesn’t matter too much where I live, and it’s really important to me to have access to the natural world. We found a place where you could walk to buy groceries but also walk five minutes to the woods.”
Should others heed his clarion call to head for greener pastures? “No, I don’t want anybody to move to the country,” he said with a laugh. “Stay in the city and keep going to Starbucks.”
As a working musician, Foucault ventures into urban environs about one-third of his time. On tour and his website, he’s selling “Blood Brothers” based on a new marketing strategy for his own Blueblade Records imprint. The $20 price, he said, reflects the actual cost of making an album.
“For the first 16 years of the new century I would make change in $5 bills every night,” Foucault said. “They’d give me a $20 bill and I’d give them change. Then I realized I was paying $6 for a cup of coffee. The record labels had it all wrong, but the truth is people want to pay for the record. Half the time they tell you to keep the other $5.”
Touring has helped him build a following, but not having a specific musical genre may have limited exposure and airplay, he said. Foucault said he tells people who ask about his musical style, “I play country, blues, folk and rock ‘n roll. The music I play is all the music that became rock ‘n’ roll.”
Jeff Johnson is a local freelance writer.