When Jeffrey Foucault rolls into the Alterra on Prospect for this season’s Sound Pass Session kick-off, he will do so in somewhat familiar company: himself. For nearly a decade, the Whitewater native has made his name as a hard-working, pavement-pounding solo artist.
But for Foucault, whose latest album Cold Satellite is the breathtaking result of a unique collaboration with contemporary American poet Lisa Olstein, sonic inspiration has come from myriad sources throughout the years.
“What I already know how to do bores me,” he says. “And working with other musicians allows me to work in areas I couldn’t otherwise.”
Foucault burst onto the scene in 2001 with his solo debut Miles From Lightning. The powerful, spacious effort met critical acclaim and showcased a remarkably mature 26-year-old songwriter with the soul of weathered folk troubadour twice his age and a signature gravelly baritone voice to match.
For his part, Foucault attributes much of his ethereal guitar playing, sincere lyrical style and road warrior mentality to his Midwestern roots, to “the openness of the landscape, the frankness of the people, the deep (and occasionally pathological) attachment to hard work and fair play.”
Foucault goes on to describe this inherent duty to his craft as “a sense that all work is honest work and just because I make music, I’m not all that different from a carpenter or something. I’m basically just trying to make all the table legs the same length.”
It was on a triple-bill tour of England in 2003 that Foucault teamed up with tour mates singer/songwriter Kris Delmhorst and guitar virtuoso Peter Mulvey. The three would eventually turn countless hours of impromptu hotel room jam sessions into the album Redbird, giving them something to sell on their return tour of the states. The collaboration expanded on Foucault’s next solo album, 2004’s Stripping Cane, which featured a slew of guest artists in addition to Delmhorst and Mulvey.
“Every musician is different, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the finest,” he says.
Foucault took this spirit of collaboration one step further, marrying Delmhorst while writing for his 2006 album Ghost Whisperer.
Then in 2007, longtime friend Olstein approached Foucault with a pile of unpublished fragments of her poetry. Foucault went to work, putting harmony to prose, melding his own heart-wrenching but ultimately uplifting melodic sensibilities to Olstein’s visceral, nonlinear written style. The end result is a brilliant collection of 12 profoundly moving tracks that once again show Foucault’s versatility and willingness to constantly expand his stylistic horizons.
It is this desire to be influenced by the people and the world around him — to absorb the collective wisdom and learn from it — that makes Foucault a truly special artist.
“When you go out like I do and play upwards of a hundred shows a year alone on the road, you have to work really hard to make the songs live and breath. You have to vary keys and times and approaches to feel as though you are creating something in real time, else you’re just reciting songs by rote memory.
“But the moment you play with other people you are making something effortlessly new and alive. If it sounds good, that’s nice, too.”
And so it goes for Jeffrey Foucault: a man who derives inspiration from everything and everyone in his universe. A man who wears his heart on his sleeve and his guitar over his shoulder, whether he is surrounded by peers or sitting in front of a lone microphone.
Thursday, Dec. 9: Sound Pass Session featuring Jeffrey Foucault and John Sieger at Alterra on Prospect, 7 p.m. (FREE)