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Sounds Local: New Jeffrey Foucault album examines life’s simple moments

  • Shelburne Falls-based singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault is performing at the Shea Theater Arts Center on Saturday at 7 p.m. Contributed photo

  • Shelburne Falls-based singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault is performing at the Shea Theater Arts Center on Saturday at 7 p.m. Contributed photo



For the Recorder
Thursday, October 04, 2018

“Do the dishes/With the windows open/Soak the dirt/From under your nails/Pour a double/Put a record on the table/The light’s always perfect/Just before it fails.”

These are the first words you hear on Jeffrey Foucault’s new album “Blood Brothers.” The song is called “Dishes” and on it, the Shelburne Falls-based singer-songwriter ruminates on the simple moments like swinging an axe before daylight, breaking bread together, taking the back roads with nobody on them, that all come together to define our lives.

“That song kind of sets the table for the whole thing,” Foucault said in a recent phone interview. “Everything that happens with the rest of the record is sort of put into context or prefigured by that first song.”

“I’m not coming out swinging with a radio single,” he added. “I don’t expect to ever have a hit song or a hit record. I want to make a record that you put on and it makes you feel a certain way, and you want to put on that record when you feel that way.”

With “Blood Brothers,” Foucault, who is a native of Wisconsin but has lived in western Massachusetts for many years, has succeeded in making that record. The album is his sixth solo release and the follow-up to the acclaimed “Salt as Wolves” from 2015. On “Blood Brothers,” Foucault forsakes the blues music that seeped into “Salt as Wolves” in favor of a folk and country blend that also includes hints of rock and gospel. This is a quieter and more contemplative work, one that leaves space for the listener to find themselves in these songs of life and love.

“Blood Brothers” was released in June and has received widespread praise. Foucault and his band have been touring the country and Europe since its release.

“It’s been going really great and has been fun to tour the record and go out with a full band,” said Foucault, who has been a touring musician for the past 20 years. “Any time you can play a group of songs every night with the same people, you really have a chance to go deeper and deeper. It’s like a story that you never come to the end of.”

This weekend, Foucault and his band will launch the northeast leg of the tour which includes a stop at the Shea Theater Arts Center, 71 Avenue A in Turners Falls, on Saturday at 7 p.m. Foucault will be backed by his excellent band that features longtime tour partner Billy Conway (Morphine) on drums, Jeremy Moses Curtis (Booker T) on bass, Bo Ramsey (Lucinda Williams) on electric guitars, and pedal steel great Eric Heywood (Pretenders). Singer-songwriter Laurie Sargent will open the show, and Foucault’s wife, singer-songwriter Kris Delmhorst, will be a special guest.

When it came time to record this album, Foucault knew that he wanted to do something different

“I have always been reticent to repeat myself and nervous about ever trying to recreate either an experience or a sound in a particular way,” he said. So Foucault enlisted guitarist Kelly Joe Phelps and drummer Billy Conway to record what he envisioned as an acoustic trio album.

But this plan fell apart when Phelps was confronted with some family issues that resulted in him bowing out of the project. Forced to rethink his plans, Foucault ended up booking the same studio in Minnesota where he recorded “Salt as Wolves” and brought together the talented musicians he has toured with over the past 10 years, the group that is now out on the road with him. They also brought in their partners to sing backing vocals, an impressive group that included Peita Brown, Tift Merritt and Delmhorst.

Working with such topnotch musicians allowed Foucault to record “Blood Brothers” in a quick three days. He also wrote the majority of the songs on the album in about six weeks. Once he started writing, Foucault thought the current political climate would seep into his work, but that didn’t happen.

“It almost did in the sense that I refused to dignify it by paying attention to it and it forced me to actually write songs about stuff that was much closer to the bone,” Foucault explained. “The simpler stuff that you actually appreciate in your life and how important that stuff is. The quiet stuff.”

Every time Foucault begins writing, he never knows what the songs are going to be about, and for these songs, he found himself turning inward.

“You think you have a lot of stuff on your mind, and then you end up with a pile of songs and they are all about one thing,” he recalled about writing this material. “With these songs, I could see they were all about love and memory, and how those two things interact.”

The song “Cheap Suit” is about Foucault’s father, who was also a musician and inspired him to pick up a guitar at the age of 17. “Little Warble” and the title track look back at relationships of the past with people who are no longer in our lives.

“If you saw me, would you know my name?” Foucault asks on “Blood Brothers.” The disc ends with “Pretty Hands,” a meditation on marriage that features Kenneth Pattengale of the Milk Carton Kids on guitar.

The upcoming show at the Shea marks a return to the historic venue for Foucault, who performed there last fall in a split bill with Delmhorst. He looks forward to playing a local show, but admitted it can be a bit unnerving.

“This is my only show in the (Pioneer) Valley and my hometown show since I’ve lived out here for quite a while, but that means it’s the one that my mechanic and other folks that I know will be attending,” he said. “When you are out on tour all the time, you might have one friend out in Los Angeles or Denver, or wherever you are, who might come to your show. But it is a different vibe playing here or when I go home to Wisconsin. It is like you are playing the home stadium. It can be stressful — but not really, because I’ve been doing this for a long time.”

Tickets are $20 in advance, and can be purchased at signaturesoundspresents.com or sheatheater.org, or $25 at the door. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at soundslocal@yahoo.com.