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Ghost in the Machine 

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Synchronicity. Cult of personality. And now: ghost repeater.

These are terms brought into the pop culture lexicon by songwriters who recognized underutilized words or phrases that encapsulated themes they wanted to address. Ghost repeater comes to us courtesy of acclaimed singer-songwriter-guitarist Jeffrey Foucault, touring behind a much-lauded CD of the same name (2006, Signature Sounds), and due to make a stop at the Rosendale Café on December 13.

“It’s an industry term,” Foucault tells me from his home in western Massachusetts. “I think [monolithic multi–radio station owner] Clear Channel came up with it.”

A ghost repeater is a robot radio station, broadcasting demographically tailored playlists to communities littered with big-box stores and facing encroaching homogeneity. The ghost repeater is part of Foucault’s unapologetic vision of an increasingly chrome-plated American landscape that still bubbles under with specters and fever dreams. As with his previous two releases, 2004’s Stripping Cane and 2005’s Miles from the Lightning, Foucault takes this raw material and creates richly poetic wordplay atop an acoustic flatbed of potent folk. But sprinkled throughout the newer songs are radio-friendly, elegantly pared-down odes to love. The cause: Foucault’s recent marriage to singer-songwriter Kris Delmhorst. This new development provides a buoyant quality to some of his latter-day work, albeit in a romance-among-the-ruins sort of way.

He releases a smoky, lived-in laugh when I tell him almost any woman would have married him upon hearing lines like: “And we’ll have a hundred babies / And a little house outside of town / With a woodstove and a claw-foot tub / When we’re all done traveling around.”

“The personal, less oblique, straightforward narrative is more of a challenge to write than the harder-to-parse allegorical stuff,” he says as his four-month-old daughter coos in the background. He’s on a break from touring, having recently played a post-election gig in Montreal. “I went onstage and said ‘Hi, my name is Jeffrey Foucault, and I’m proud to be from the United States of America,’” he says, “and the place just went crazy.”

An earthy autodidact and former groundskeeper at the University of Wisconsin, Foucault is indebted as much to fishing as he is to Tom Petty, John Prine, and poet Kenneth Rexroth—the latter introduced to him by his “anarchist, cab-driving uncle.” When asked whether he has time to cast a line while on tour, he says with a resigned sigh, “No, but a fan made me a split-cane fly rod and sent it to me in exchange for a spot on the guest list, so that was a great deal.” He says that once he can get a biodiesel bus and opt out of flying everywhere, he’ll have more room to bring his tackle.

In addition to that biodiesel bus, three releases are on the horizon for Foucault, and he is eager to get to them. “As soon as I get off the phone with you,” he tells me, “I’m calling John Prine’s manager to see if I can get a deal to license his songs for a tribute CD I’m doing.” Add to that a collection of murder ballads (to offset the love songs?) and a CD of tunes based around poet Lisa Olstein’s work, and you have a guy with a lot to say and do. Best to catch him while you can.

Jeffrey Foucault will perform at the Rosendale Café on December 13 at 8pm.
(845) 658-9048; www.rosendalecafe.com.

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