Josephine Foster No More Lamps In the Morning

[Fire; 2016]

Styles: pure folk
Others: Vashti Bunyan, Gil e Jorge, Julia Holter

I‘m in a unique position to review No More Lamps In The Morning, the newest collection from Colorado maven Josephine Foster, for a couple of reasons. For starters, this actually marks the first time I’ve heard her music, despite the fact that she’s been writing tenuous, striking folk songs for some time now. But much more importantly, No More Lamps In The Morning is a peculiar entry for Foster, because it consists almost entirely of songs from her past releases, reinterpreted by Foster and longtime husband Victor Herrero. This means I have two options for how to proceed here: The first is to go back through Foster’s catalog, soaking in the original versions of these songs as best I can so that I can put this album into an appropriate context for you, a reader who very well might be more versed in Foster’s lore than I am. The second option is to do away with the pretenses and behold this album as I truly am: as a new student to this music, a fresh pair of ears, stumbling onto a story that has been going on for almost 20 years before finally crossing my path.

What’s interesting is that, even as a first-time listener, there’s a familiarity and a texture to Foster’s music that transcends the mere custom of the acoustic singer-songwriter. Where less subtle performers attempting a cabaret disposition might come off as gimmicky with each tap of their guitar body, when Foster employs the trick on opener “Blue Roses,” it barely draws attention to itself. Foster serves a wholesome porridge of early 20th-century folk, impressionistic in its execution even as it follows seemingly traditional pathways of song. Although remarkably bare, every sound here comes loaded with a historical surrealism, spilling forth from the confines of their composition to form new environments and anagogic pathways within the orthodoxy of these pieces. Herrero’s playing in particular is vivid, almost psychedelic, a controlled and complementary aide to Foster’s effortless leads that lends tracks like “A Thimbleful of Milk” and “Magenta” a bewildering sense of clarity. This certainly isn’t Herrero’s first time contributing to his wife’s recorded work, yet the duo’s interplay here is onto something unique, a step into undiscovered territory that nonetheless bears the weight of its foundations.

But I still haven’t given service to the centrally fascinating idea of No More Lamps In The Morning, which lies in the manner that Foster addresses the longstanding tradition of folk music. Of all the defining characteristics of what we call “folk,” perhaps the most central is the concept of the ritual, a communal code passed down from generation to generation, reminding ourselves of ancient stories, universal truths, melodies that pierce the screen of time. This method of repetition lends the folk disciple a humbling connectedness to their brothers and sisters, but by the same token its restrictiveness and overly trusting attitude toward the past can be controlling, paranoid to evolution, and overall detrimental to the search for humanity. Foster responds to this quandary by rediscovering her own personal history, encapsulating her nature within these seven songs (five of them old, two of them new). These readings stand on their own merits, more pastoral than some of the more bruising work of Foster’s past, yet ultimately what makes them unique is that they actually don’t sound terribly unlike their original incarnations. This in turn makes No More Lamps In The Morning a reinterpretation of the very concept of reinterpretation, a slight collection as outwardly supple as it is inwardly inquisitive.

Ultimately, though I did my best to educate myself on Foster’s past, I am a new listener, coming to her in 2016, hearing her sing songs that in some cases have existed for more than 10 years now. Yet to me, this music is uncharted, revelatory, blossoming, and all the more so, because somehow it feels like it might be to Foster as well. It’s said that to abide by tradition is to stifle unexplored ideas, yet the true beauty in tradition hides in the fact that no two repetitions can ever really be the same. The ritual exists as an eternal extension of the past that ironically ends up highlighting the ever-shifting, uncontrollable essence of the present. And if a new witness is out there this time, observing something now that might’ve been misunderstood before, isn’t it possible that what they make of it could be closer to genesis than iteration?

Links: Josephine Foster - Fire

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