Jeffrey Foucault is a man born into the wrong era. An age when iPods and Pandora stations queue up hundreds of songs to flick through rewards impatience. Foucault's music doesn't. His songs are slow and subdued, and invest heavily in lyrics, with much hanging on each word eked out in his Midwestern garble. "If your tongue is sleeping / Curled inside your head / Like a lion or a serpent / You might as well be dead," Foucault slyly sings, about our loud and fast age, on the song "Everybody's Famous." (The Wisconsin native released his fifth solo album in 2011.)
"I'm an old-fashioned guy," Foucault says. "I still listen to vinyl and write letters and use the post office."
He says his work is best heard when driving alone, due to something called the "orienting effect." "When you stare at the road or a fire or ⎯ God forbid ⎯ the TV, the impulse is to be aware of what's happening. ... When there is something that requires your attention, it puts you in a trance," he explains. It's in that state that Foucault's sparsely instrumented folk-rock songs, in which sentiments of love and loneliness rise up and disperse like steam, can seep into the listener's conscious.
Raised in a college town with "a mix of farm kids and professors' kids," Foucault is clearly a literate dude. He soaks up a mix of fiction, poetry and history books. (He says he is big on fellow Midwesterner Jim Harrison because he "writes about stuff I care about, like weather and sex and death and fishing.")
Foucault never finished college himself and instead roamed about vocationally until producing his first album in 2001. His touring schedule brings him to a mix of bars, coffee shops and other small venues. He skips the usual circuit to stop in small towns. "I remember playing a town in Wales that was three buildings, a crossroads and then just sheep pastures," he recalls. He says he's often toured partially to have a tax-deductible reason to go fishing in places like Montana and Alaska.
His upcoming stop in Pittsburgh was sparked by two things: WYEP has played his songs and he's never been to the city before. "It just seemed strange to me," Foucault says. "I've played McCook, Nebraska, but I've never played Pittsburgh."
JEFFREY FOUCAULT with BIG SNOW BIG THAW. 6 p.m. Fri., Jan. 13. Club Café, 56 S. 12th St., South Side. $10. 412-431-4950 or www.clubcafelive.com