What a smart and resourceful concept of two acts touring with the same backup band and becoming each other’s background singer. That's what happened Sunday at the Dakota Jazz Club with Jeffrey Foucault and Caitlin Canty.
In his 75-minute headlining set, Foucault, 39, proved to be an Americana contender who deserves wider attention.
Originally from Whitewater, Wis., but now living in New England, he was promoting his new, made-in-Cannon Falls, Minn. album -- the splendid “Salt as Wolves” -- backed by, among others, Iowa guitarist Bo Ramsey and Boston drummer Billy Conway, who is originally from Owatonna. They might not have looked like they all belonged together – two cowboy hats, one fedora, a stocking cap and a woman with long hair – but there was a special chemistry among the players that fit Foucault’s sound.
His minimalist Americana sound might be described as moody blues, a mix of desolation, melancholy and bittersweet. Think Townes Van Zandt fronting the Cowboy Junkies. He showed a refined sense of phrasing, with enough air, hesitation and syllable stretching to complement the atmospheric vibe of the music. Vocally, he sounded a bit like Steve Earle, only prettier.
Foucault’s charming and witty gift of gab balanced the oft-downbeat lyrics. “This song was described in a review as mean tenderness,” he said in introducing “I Love You (And You Are a Fool)” from the new album. “So I’m pioneering a genre.”
The slow, tender tune, featuring opening act Canty's harmony vocals, sounded like it would have been perfect for the Everly Brothers or Patsy Cline.
Foucault talked about being given a choice on Sundays in his childhood of either going to church with his mom or fishing with his dad. One winter day, he picked fishing because Dad promised him a soda, which was a rare treat. But when Jeffrey grabbed the coveted Dr. Pepper in the ice house he “bobbled it and it fell down the hole. That’s what this next song is about.” It was a haunting dirge called “Jesus Will Fix It for You.”
Foucault also mentioned that, on the day his 10th and latest album was released, he had performed in Rhinelander, Wis., “which is what you do when you have an album come out. It’s the epicenter of cultural impact.”
There’s no question his music could have greater cultural impact if tunes like the soul/gospel/country plaint “Paradise,” the Eric Church-evoking rocker “Left This Town,” the sweet country ditty “Leaping Out” (a Foucault/Canty duet sans band) and the up-tempo “Ghost Repeater” were more widely heard.
Canty, who recently moved to Nashville from Vermont, offered a likable opening set of original country-folk and Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” accompanied by Foucault and the same musicians he used.