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Josephine Foster
I'm A Dreamer Andrew Spragg , November 19th, 2013 04:58

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In terms of her voice, Josephine Foster has a rare and pretty unique timbre. It is as distinctive as someone like, say, Karen Dalton, and with a technical aptitude that testifies to her training and former life as a singing teacher. There are few of Foster's contemporaries who are able to voice a song in such a striking and idiosyncratic manner, and it is borne out in the spate of enthralling albums that she has released in recent years. Her last record, Blood Rushing, offered a selection of recordings that showed Foster's interest in both European and American folk traditions, indicative of her roots in Colorado and her time living in Spain.

I'm A Dreamer shifts the focus slightly, drawing in elements of early jazz and torch songs. It is most noticeable in the change of emphasis in instrumentation. Blood Rushing made use of a compact group of musicians, with particular emphasis on the nylon-strung guitar Foster favours. By contrast, I'm a Dreamer places double bass and piano more robustly centre-stage for a significant number of the songs. On tracks such as 'My Wandering Star' this gives certain instances a tumbling feel close to melodrama, and it is testament to Foster's choice of musicians and song-writing that she knows how and when to draw this out, and when also to draw it back.

I'm a Dreamer strikes an impressive balance between light and dark: 'No-One's Calling Your Name' is going to do little to mitigate any heartbreak you may be experiencing, whilst 'Amuse A Muse' offers a wonderfully funny and straight-faced critique of the male gaze. Foster's lyrics bring a simplicity that evades cliché, falling for a pleasantly universal bent that reiterates her ability to find new modes within familiar forms of expression.

Foster's work touches on tradition in a way that seems both retrospective and reverent, without necessarily giving itself over to pure emulation. 'Pretty Please' is tinged with a country feel, its taut double bass and strumming guitar offset by a tinkling set of honkey-tonk ivories and the late inclusion of Victor Herrero's slide guitar. Immediately following is 'Magenta', with Foster's voice beautifully complemented by a cluster of piano chords and bowed bass, the results almost too tender for a listener caught off-guard. It is a precise example of the level of fine detail in the composition and execution of I'm A Dreamer; a demonstration of the gathering together of a musical knowledge and confidence in attempting things that would seem pat or dull in the hands of less confident musicians.

Oddly, and perhaps controversially, the nearest comparator is Tom Waits, vaudeville make-up washed off, the piano wheeled out to put the show to bed. This is not to suggest that the common touchstone for I'm A Dreamer was Waits, but there is similarity in Foster's determined ability to reshape past influences that speaks of something transcendent of simple homage.