The story of Josephine Foster’s musical development is one of self-discovery and remarkable tenacity. Midway through her classical training as an opera singer, the Colorado born musician found her voice sitting uneasily between that of a soprano and a mezzo-soprano, an idiosyncrasy that typecast her into a small set of potential roles for the remainder of her career. Instead of resigning herself to this operatic cul-de-sac, Foster forewent the completion of her training, moving to Chicago in 2000 in the hope of indulging her musical passion outside of the restrictive confines of the classical tradition.
Foster’s latest album Blood Rushing appears to represent something of a monumental juncture in her output. The first record to be released under her own name, the album should perhaps be viewed as a completion of Foster’s tireless creative explorations of the last twelve years: the drawing together of disparate musical threads into a unified artistic identity. Where Foster has had a tendency in the past to hide herself behind overt gimmickry and artifice (for example, 2006’s A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing saw songs by 19th century romantic composers set to pummelling waves of guitar noise), Blood Rushing is instilled with the swagger and unpretentious sincerity of an artist with the confidence simply to play it straight.
A tangle of fingerpicked acoustic guitars, off-kilter violins and rudimentary drums, this album is a set of joyously ramshackle folk songs, capturing the electric spontaneity of community music making. The production is spacious, but not unnaturally so, affording the music room to breathe whilst retaining the compressed intensity of a band playing in a small room. This music has the intangible quality of appearing at once both earthen and ethereal, teetering on the brink of disorder, Blood Rushing’s songs pulse with untamed energy, the album’s seemingly polite façade of unassuming acoustic instruments and well-worn song structures is undercut throughout with an intoxicating ambiguity. As such, Blood Rushing is an endlessly engaging, subtly nuanced collection, revealing surprising depth of character over repeated listens.
As a trained opera singer, one might expect of Foster a relatively anonymous, if technically proficient, vocal delivery. Yet, it is in her voice that Blood Rushing holds its most lasting appeal. Traversing an endless terrain of timbres and inflections, Foster’s voice, like the instrumental performances throughout the album, seems constantly on the verge of collapse. By carefully treading the line between unity and rupture, ecstasy and melancholic fallibility, Foster’s singing communicates a remarkably complex and fragile emotional state without ever resorting to overwrought emotive gesture. Whilst there are certainly superficial similarities between the vocalisations heard on Blood Rushing and the contrived eccentricity of some adherents of so-called freak-folk, Foster’s vocals eschew any hint of self-conscious affect, radiating a rugged authenticity and candour.
Despite its stripped back directness, Blood Rushing is not immune to Foster’s affection for high concept: the album has been billed as a glimpse into the world of the artist’s alter-ego, Blushing, in the form of a “ballet chanté” (or, a sung ballet). Despite running the risk of suffocating her songs with an imposing overarching theme, Foster prioritises the importance for personal musical communication throughout the album, using her concept to unify and augment, but not dictate, the development of the record. Recorded in Foster’s hometown, Blood Rushing is a beautifully lilting, melodious album: this is an album about beginnings, about processing the past and tentatively forging ahead into the void of the future. Or, as Foster sings on the title track: “In Colorado did I begin again / Did I begin to begin again.”