November 23, 2010

Josephine Foster – Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You
folk, singer/songwriter

Much like fellow folkie Joanna Newsom, Josephine Foster gets unfairly (and sometimes dismissively) bundled into the “difficult voice” crowd of female musicians. While her vocals are a little unconventional when compared to some of the other artists that sprung from the Golden Apples of the Sun compilation (on which, like Newsom, she was featured), they’re certainly not impenetrable. Foster trills and warbles delightfully, singing of secret loves, hidden places and her desire for a man with “rhythm in his waist Josephine Foster - Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead Youand hair on his chest”, and as such there’s a classical beauty and good-natured warmth to her singing which, when combined with the simple, rustic production, bare instrumentation and total absence of pretense, gives the album a displaced quality which makes it hard to initially anchor Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You to a specific time period. Her vocal is totally consistent, and yet I found myself thinking of all kinds of different contexts throughout the album – at times she sounds like a mystic-folk hippie at one with the world; at others she branches into cryptic storytelling that seems to cast her as a bard of some King’s court; “There Are Eyes Above” and “Trees Lay By” sound like traditional lullabies; several songs have a bluesy or baroque tilt to them; and then the gentle coos she uses to farewell “The Siren’s Admonition” and “The Golden-Wooden Tone” have her sounding like the soundtrack to a family matinée from the 1950s. By the end of the album, I felt convinced she could have stepped out of just about any time in the last several hundred years, which is quite a remarkable rarity in music today. Foster plays virtually every instrument on the album, and while her acoustic guitar is the centrepiece on most tracks, she also makes use of a variety of supporting instruments including tambourine, recorder, harp, flute, all manner of clickers, chimes, bells and whistles and even a few playful turns on the kazoo, finally adding in some harmonised-with-herself vocal overdubs that are just sublime. While my own favourites would have to be the lovely opener “The Siren’s Admonition” and the utterly charming “Good News”, Foster possesses the kind of consistent songwriting prowess and distinct artistic identity that will lead every listener to discover their own unique connection to her work. The brilliance of Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You rests on that most personal of intangibles – Foster’s work has a strong sense of sentimentality and … let’s call it “specialness”, something indefinable that makes the album feel like a piece of lost treasure that was created just for you. It shamelessly tugs at the heartstrings, and I’ve found myself quite helplessly enamoured.



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