Jeffrey Foucault gives this one more breathing room, emerging from the beautiful, stark darkness of his previous release, the wonderful Salt As Wolves. This time out, with Blood Brothers Foucault and his cohorts aren’t in a bluesy mode but instead fuse elements of folk, country, R&B, and slights hints of gospel and rock n’ roll together in a literate, nuanced style to create moody vignettes of love and ordinary aspects of life that get little attention from most other writers.
Recorded live to tape in Minnesota in just three days, like the last record, it has players that usually accompany Foucault both live and in the studio. Drummer Billy Conway (Morphine) and bassist Jeremy Moses Curtis (Booker T &the MGs) play in Foucault’s band Cold Satellite, and pedal steel wizard Eric Heywood (Pretenders, Son Volt) plays often with Foucault live. Iowa guitar ace Bo Ramsey returns along with a star-studded cast of female vocalists that add keening harmonies to Foucault’s rich tenor. Pieta Brown (“Blood Brothers”), Foucault’s wife, Kris Delmhorst (vocals on “Dishes” and “Rio,” cello on “Blown”), Tift Merritt (‘Blown”), and Laurie Sargent (“War on the Radio”). Additionally, guests include Barbara Jean Meyers (violin on “War on the Radio”), Kenneth Pattengale (Milk Carton Kids) – acoustic guitar on “Pretty Hands.” Their contributions frame Foucault beautifully.
There’s a mesmerizing, sometimes trance-like, but natural and engaging sound when Jeffrey Foucault and guitarists Bo Ramsey and Eric Heywood get together. They use space very well, letting some notes ring while always playing compatibly. This is Foucault’s sixth solo release, and each time out he reveals literate songs that draw from poets and novelists. Open the inside jacket and Noy Holland waxes eloquently about Foucault, citing his song titles as she writes. For example, “Jeffrey gives us the ample and aching heart, the long hunger that is life as it shimmers past, the elusive want, the face remembered. The hands. Pretty hands.” The poet Wallace Stevens inspired the opening slow waltzing “Dishes,” which epitomizes the minor details of life so often overlooked but somehow etched in memory.
”War on the Radio” uses bright, jangling chords reminiscent of the sound on Foucault’s 2006 Ghost Repeater. “Blown,” on the other hand, returns to his signature hushed restraint, this time colored by pedal steel and cello, as Foucault duets with Tift Merritt about the nature of dislocation. “Little Warble,” which could well be the album’s centerpiece, has Foucault memorializing the day a love affair ended from the vantage point of twenty years past. Blood Brothers closes with Foucault and Pattengale in an acoustic guitar duet, as Foucault delivers another spare poem, this one on the nature of marriage.
Describing Foucault’s music with words like economic, literate, simple, restrained, aching, and raw doesn’t go far enough. There’s a purity and delicacy here, abetted by the many female voices, that’s different from the dusky, desperate broody tone of the previous record. He proves both can be beautiful. Foucault comes across free of pretensions or imitation. He has shaped his own unique style and has a way of looking inward and painting detailed reflections that few can match.