Josephine Foster seems to have been on a wild musical ride these last few years. As part of Born Heller(her collaboration with Jason Ajemian) she produced an album of austere folky melancholia for which she wrote the bulk of the songs, then as JF and the Supposed she channelled Patti Smith and Television via The Who and Jefferson Airplane into folk rock and most recently recorded an album of German folk balladry set to a backdrop of acoustic minimalism and electric guitars.
This album, though, is her best to date. It's a magnificent achievement on every level: not only does she write all the songs and play every instrument, including guitar, harp, dulcimer, sitar, cittarina, sandblocks, kazoo(!), black cat(?!), 'a box of wire ties' as well as providing her own vocal accompaniment, she also produces the record too.
I first heard of this album a year or more ago and comparisons to Joanna Newsom's "The Milk-Eyed Mender" were enough to intrigue me, but it was only comparatively recently that I finally got a copy. I certainly wish I had been a little more impulsive at the time. It's easy to see why such comparisons have been made: solo female artist, plays harp, unusual voice and associate of Devandra Bahart, but they are not much alike. If anything Josephine Foster is the less accessible, harder to like immediately, of the two. My advice to those who found Joanna Newsom not to there liking, is that they are unlikely to become very fond of this.
The first play of this CD left me with the impression of a unique and unusual artist with a very distinctive style, but on subsequent plays I realised there was so much more here than that. The album is an absolute gem!
I read one review which suggested that the impact of her voice and lyrical style `overcomes the need for conventional melody' but the writer overlooked the fact, that after a few listens, you'll find that the record is packed with winning melodies.
There is such a diverse collection of music here: the title track I found almost instantly lovable, `Stones throw from heaven' has a rough hewn gospel sound and 'Trees lay by'(my personal favourite) has beautifully haunting and tender melody, while the kazoo solo in `The golden wooden tone' raises a smile but is absolutely perfect for the song.
Sometimes the album sounds like a folk academic's porch recordings, such is the feeling of perfect antiquity, but then as with the opening track, when the intrusion of a sitar's buzz adds an unexpected touch, the album always veers away from such neat categorisations. The music calls on earlier times for inspiration but is not of any specific period.
It is the discovery of an album such as this that makes the whole process of listening to new music worthwhile. This is an album that won't be for everyone, but those who find it is to their liking, are likely to find it becomes a very special part of their lives indeed.