Reed Foehl Lucky Enough
Green Mountain Records www.reedfoehlmusic.com
Reed Foehl has some kinda fans. A band of them. A Band of Heathens.
I am not privy to the particulars of the genesis of this project, but I’m imagining that somewhere along the way—four previous albums, countless gigs, dozens of songs—Reed Foehl greatly impressed The Band of Heathens. Not surprisingly as Foehl has been producing inspired country-influenced folk music for a long time.
Like Fervor Coulee favourites John Wort Hannam, Slaid Cleaves, Amy Black, Craig Moreau, and the late Ben Bullington, Foehl has gone about his business writing songs and making music; not darlings of the industry any of them—to encounter folks of this ilk, you have to either be looking pretty hard, or get lucky. I suppose I’ve been lucky enough to find them.
From spending time on the road with The Band of Heathens, Foehl found himself ensconced with the group at their Austin studio—and here’s the proverbial ‘all in’—the archetypal, tasteful Americana band and Foehl decide it would be a good idea for them to back him, in their entirety, on the album.
Lucky Enough, indeed.
But luck doesn’t work If you can’t back it up, and Foehl does.
His voice—smooth, companionable, and flavoured with a touch of palatable wisdom—is the first thing one is likely to notice. But the songs are masterfully constructed, some poetic and symbolic, most situational explorations brought to fruition with elegantly nuanced instrumentation.
“Stealing Starlight” and “American Miles”—both expansive, grandly produced three-minute epics, worthy entertainment for listeners who appreciate Josh Ritter, Fleet Foxes, or Vance Joy. “We’re always the last to leave,” Foehl sings on the album’s initial track, “Stealing Starlight,” establishing a sense of longing for acceptance that seems to be woven through many of the album’s ten songs.
“In a fast fading autumn, with the last of the leaves—with the ghost of the season” Foehl finds himself traveling “American Miles,” again seeking a connection—not necessarily personnel or sexual, but perhaps grander, more substantial. Over a pulsing rhythm track, our hero ever searches.
Co-producing the album with BOH members Gordy Quist and Ed Jurdi, Foehl has crafted a country-folk album of significant depth. Listening to it, one senses time perceptively slowing as one’s breathing slows, matching the pulse and penetrating focus of each song. Which isn’t to suggest Lucky Enough is a sleepy album.
“It Takes a Long Time to Make Old Friends” doesn’t sound like much, an adage Harlan Howard might have scribbled onto a beer coaster in 1972, but Foehl massages his collected images—a remembered route of youth, a love worth continued investment, a threadbare shirt—into a lasting testament to that which is true.
Beyond Foehl’s inspired lyrics, song structures, and inspired singing, The Band of Heathens, and especially drummer Richard Millsap, are central to the success of Lucky Enough. “Running Out of You,” “Wish I Knew,” and “Carousel Horses” appear to be true ‘band’ songs, the collective finding and maintaining a groove, developing the song in a manner one imagines five young guys once did in a pink house in West Saugerties. I love what Millsap does with “Wish I Knew,” a simple, unfaltering barroom beat, while on “Running Out of You” he just stays out of the way, crafting a sparse rhythm as lonesome as the midnight moods the song evokes.
At one point while listening, and just before Foehl sings (of a rather difficult character within “He’s On An Island,”) “all his heroes belong in a Townes Van Zandt song,” comparison to the troubled troubadour was formulating. It is then that one recalls an earlier song, “If It Rains,” featuring phrases that induced vivid images—“the blackening sky touched down in its wrath on its path for you and I,” “dust clouds will settle,” and “we hum three words that never came”—and one grasps that TVZ has been in mind the entire time Lucky Enough has been playing.
Now Foehl isn’t trying to walk in his shoes, mimic or emulate Townes Van Zandt. No, Foehl is just that good, and one realizes of what he is capable, that blend of lyric, rhythm, rhyme, “the sorrow and the pain” that Van Zandt did as well as anyone else ever has.
Lucky Enough is the proof.
I’ve reviewed seven albums this month; I am confident two are going to end up on my ‘year-end’ lists. Lucky Enough is one of those.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald