It’s fair to say that Josephine Foster doesn’t appeal to the lowest common denominator. In the last few years, she’s recorded an album based on the poems of Emily Dickinson, an all-ukulele record, an album of children’s songs and a collection of traditional German folk songs. Sadly, a collaboration with Jedward probably isn’t on the cards.
Her latest album, a collaboration with her husband, Spanish musician Victor Herrero, is typically eclectic. Like last years Anda Jaleo, which featured songs based on the works of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca (who also provided the inspiration for Leonard Cohen‘s Take This Waltz), Perlas is a collection of Spanish folk, sung in the native tongue and recorded live.
As with Anda Jaleo, there’s a very referential approach taken here. There’s flamenco rhythms, castanets, and an overall sound that you can imagine floating out of a window in a dusty street in Madrid. The analogue production suits the songs well, adding to the authentic atmosphere, and Herrero’s band sound terrific, especially when they cut loose, as in the last few minutes of opening track Puerto De Santa Maria.
The trouble is that it’s all a bit too dry, a bit too earnest. Foster has an undeniably technically impressive voice (she originally wanted to be an opera singer), but becomes grating over the course of an album where there doesn’t seem to be any variation in her tone. It makes the occasional vocal appearance of Herrero, as on the excellent Cuando Vienes Del Monto, all the more welcome.
The sublime Dame Esa Flor is another highlight, with Foster and Herrero’s voices working well in tandem with each other, while Cuatro Pinos is shimmeringly beautiful, even if Foster’s voice has become a bit shrill by the end of it. What is impressive is how Foster has mastered the language – she captures the accent perfectly, and there’s no hint at all that this is a Colorado native singing these traditional Spanish songs: she could easily be mistaken for a local.
En Esta Larga Ausencia is a good showcase for Herrero’s band, with layers of Spanish guitar piling on top of each other to create something quite beautiful, while Sangre Colorada demonstrates the intricate guitar work on display. At other times though, it just becomes a bit dull, as on Peregrino or the far too long title track. It’s a difficult album to listen to the way through, unless you’re a massive fan of traditional Spanish folk music.
Ultimately, Perlas is a technically very impressive album, both in terms of the level of musicianship on display, and in the nature of the project that Foster has undertaken. It’s undoubtedly an acquired taste, and you can’t imagine actually wanting to listen to it all that much, but there’s definitely much to admire here.