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Josephine Foster

+ {The Children’s Hour} + {Born Heller}

Born April 19, 1974 in Colorado, singer-songwriter JOSEPHINE FOSTER (and her trusty ukulele) has been one of the mainstays of neo-psych-folk, although the genre is somewhat tempered by her detached sojourns into children’s and off-kilter old-timey folk; diversifying mini-CDr’s THESE ARE EYES ABOVE (2000) and LITTLE LIFE (2001) were testament to this.
Duly relocating to Chicago, Illinois, FOSTER and musical accomplice Andy Bar (an art school graduate from Cleveland) took their moniker The CHILDREN’S HOUR from 19th Century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, releasing a one-off set SOS JFK (2003) {*7}. A myriad of plucky lullabies and ballads (`Adoption Day’ a particular fave), it introduced Jo’s wistful and melodious to a wider market; fans of JOANNA NEWSOM, CAT POWER or folk legend SHIRLEY COLLINS might well’ve been pleased.
The eponymous BORN HELLER (2004) {*7} project with jazzateer Jason Ajemian (on double bass, guitar and vox) was her next port of call, another autumnal avant-garde piece that tiptoed through the two lips by way of FOSTER’s sleepy transfiguration of TINY TIM or VASHTI BUNYAN; examples `I Want To’, `The Left Garden’ and `Pansies, Will You Ever Grow?’.
Now billed as Josephine Foster And The Supposed (i.e. rhythmists Brian Goodman – also on lead guitar – and Rusty Peterson), ALL THE LEAVES ARE GONE (2004) {*7} saw her capture the essence of 60s West Coast psych-folk and transport it four decades on into some metaphysical time-machine. Opener `Well-Heeled Man’ is a primeval slide into GRACE SLICK territory, while fuzz-guitar-friendly `The Most Loved One’ is VELVET UNDERGROUND incarnate; the title track itself will induce some heavy pot-smoking or pill-popping if one hasn’t already begun the trip. Sadly, like everything else, the set wears off a little too soon.
Maybe one could relapse into double the years (maybe 78 if that’s not a pun too far) for her esoteric solo set HAZEL EYES, I WILL LEAD YOU (2005) {*6}, an antiquated, organic and old-timey affair that seemed rather back-porch and rocking-chair to the garage-folk of her previous classic. Ditto THIS COMING GLADNESS (2008) {*7}, but it fared better critically. The weird and bewildering A WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING (2006) {*6} had ventured into Brahms and Lizst territory, albeit minus the latter composer, his place taken by wax museum 19th century Germans (she sings in the dialect) Schubert and Schumann. It’s saved by Goodman’s acid guitar licks.
GRAPHIC AS A STAR (2009) {*6} returned Josephine to safer pastures, although her fixation with the 19th century – this time based on the works by poet Emily Dickenson – found the 26 short fireside-folk dirges a little wanting. On too many occasions promising songs are left abandoned like some remote mountain shack, the exceptions such as `In Falling Timbers Buried’, `Tell As A Marksman’ and `I Could Bring You Jewels’ recreating some kind of funereal sing-a-long fete for dysfunctional DYLAN-ites.
Not content in taking her fanbase and other punters everywhere musically under the sun, the idiosyncratic Jo literally took us to hotter climes courtesy of her World-music, BAEZ-esque ANDA JALEO (2010) {*7}, sang in/and on Spanish soil and credited to Josephine Foster & The Victor Herrero Band. Once again recorded and credited with her hubby and his band, PERLAS (2012) {*6} was their sophomore collaboration, running on from the previous “world-music” set inflected by a collection recorded by Federico Garcia Lorca and La Argentinita, way back in 1931.
Back on home terra firma in Colorado, and with guitarist Herrero, violinist Heather Trost (of A HAWK AND A HACKSAW), skin-drummer Ben Trimble (of Fly Golden Eagle) and flautist Paz Lenchantin (of The Entrance Band), her solo BLOOD RUSHING (2012) {*7} drew from her avant-psych psyche. Taking the title from one of the concept set’s quieter tracks, FOSTER – a modern-day YOKO ONO – stirred in a melting pot of folk influences, her freak-folk credentials back on course through the hair-stretching `Geyser’; very AMON DUUL II. A pearl among gemstones, the flighty Josephine shifts without much ado on beachcombing beauts, `Underwater Daughter’ and `Panorama Wide’, while the rhythm of CCR’s “Proud Mary” finds its way into the delightful `Child Of God’.
Never one to shirk a self-imposed one-album-a-year policy, the forlorn FOSTER’s belated contribution to 2013, the Nashville-cut I’M A DREAMER {*8}, married honky-tonk with the blues and some plucky jazz. Augmented by usual suspect, Herrero, plus the steely talents of Chris Scruggs (grandson of EARL SCRUGGS), pianist Micah Hilscher, double bassist Dave Roe and drummer Tommy Perkinson, the jaunty Josephine clicks her red shoes to relive the ghosts of the past by way of `Sugarpie I’m Not The Same’, `No One’s Calling Your Name’ and `My Wandering Heart’. Fermenting her love of the works of Rudyard Kipling, she utilises his `Blue Roses’, while the speakeasy-30s were recreated in spirit on Vernon Duke’s `Cabin In The Sky’.
As the clocks ticked by for fresh FOSTER fodder, fans had to make do with her and Herrero’s live-in-the-studio – classical and Portuguese guitars respectively in hand – stripped back re-imagined: NO MORE LAMPS IN THE MORNING (2016) {*7}. Lifting its title from a BORN HELLER piece going back a dozen years, whilst showcasing `Blue Roses’ and `Magenta’ again(!), the worthy revisit of `The Garden Of Earthly Delights’ (Gyda Valtysdottir of MUM’s squeaky-swing cello – the delightful part), `Second Sight’ and `A Thimbleful Of Milk’ (the latter triumvirate from 2008), and a new song based on a James Joyce poem, `My Dove, My Beautiful One’, well… there’s going back in time… and there’s going…
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Nov2013-Feb2016

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