In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.
No less than The New Yorker once wrote “Jeffrey Foucault, sings stark, literate songs that are as wide open as the landscape of his native Midwest” (and they know from literate). For going on two decades, the unassuming Wisconsin singer-songwriter has been quietly releasing some of the best folk records of the current century. Though maybe not that quietly; he does have people like Don Henley saying he “clocks modern culture about as good as I’ve ever heard anybody clock it.”
Along the way Foucault has released some beautiful covers himself, including a terrific murder-ballads album with Mark Erelli, a John Prine tribute on his own, and a great take on Bob Dylan’s “Señor” just last year. His new album Blood Brothers, though, is all originals. It comes out tomorrow, but you can hear “Blown,” a beautiful duet with Tift Merritt, now:
On the eve of his new album’s release tomorrow, Foucault took a few minutes to tell us about some of his favorite cover songs in the worlds of folk, country, and Americana music.
Chris Whitley – China Gate (Victor Young & Max Steiner cover)
Foucault says: “One of my favorite recordings and certainly one of the best and deepest collections of covers I ever heard. Whitley brings in Billy Martin and Chris Wood on rhythm and gets a dark, live room sound, with the vocal and steel guitar up front, letting the sounds travel through the air to reach the microphone, like the old Chess albums. I always wondered why we close-mic everything when we never listen that way. This is the theme song from a 1957 film about the French war in Indochina.”
Willie Nelson – That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day) (Frankie Laine cover)
Foucault says: “There are many versions of this song, but none of them quite achieves what Willie does here, gently, with his perfect phrasing. Tom Morell plays pedal steel.”
Son Volt – Mystifies Me (Ron Wood cover)
Foucault says: “This song (from Ron Wood’s solo album I’ve Got My Own Album To Do) is fantastic in the original version, and I’m not sure anyone other than Jay and the original Son Volt line up could have done it any justice. This is what Alt-Country sounded like when that term had some currency.”
Rainer Ptacek – Cheer Down (George Harrison cover)
Foucault says: “This song is about perfect, and fairly overlooked. Rainer Ptacek was a holy man, with one foot on the other side every time he picked up a guitar.”
Jessie Mae Hemphill – Baby, Please Don’t Go (Big Joe Williams cover)
Foucault says: “Jessie Mae’s just kicks the hell out of this song. Loose, dirty, and sexy. The She-Wolf. Once I was listening to this record in the car on the way to a Greg Brown show that my friend Bo Ramsey was opening, and I turned off the car, walked into the club, and Bo was singing the next line.”
Pre-order Jeffrey Foucault’s ‘Blood Brothers’ at his website.