Josephine Foster & The Victor Herrero Band - "Puerto De Santa Maria" (Perlas)
Josephine Foster’s voice, a gravity-defying instrument at the best of times, has been pressed into all kinds of service over the past decade, since she first broke cover with the soured folk-rock of All The Leaves Have Gone: children’s music, Tin Pan Alley, settings of Emily Dickinson poems, German lieder. Her recent turn to Spanish folk music has much to do with her personal life (her partner is Victor Herrero, and she has relocated to Spain from America), but there is also something in these songs that suits her singing, a natural poise that Foster can wrap her idiosyncratic pipes around, equal parts sadness, grace and play.
Perlas is the second set of Spanish folk songs Foster has recorded with her partner’s band, after 2010’s Anda Jaleo. Where its predecessor drew from the songs of Federico Garcia Lorca’s banned folk song collection Canciones Populares Españoles (perhaps best known from the stunning performances by Flamenco dancer La Argentinita on the 1931 album on HMV), here Foster casts a wider net. And though Perlas was recorded down south, in Puerto de Santa Maria (the Port of Saint Mary) in Andalusia, the songs primarily draw from the folk traditions of the northern autonomous communities of Spain.
These kinds of albums often risk wooden, overly reverent performances, but Foster and her crew play with great ease and charm, the live and analog recording burnishing the set with open-air warmth, and the players connecting with the intuitive spark of natural improvisers, but in service to 10 beautiful folk songs. Things excel when the group stretch their limbs and take their time, as on the opening “Puerto De Santa Maria” and the penultimate title track, where strings tangle with the knotted and chipped varnish of flamenco, and Herrero and Foster trade lines and verses, before his blunt drawl of a voice sets a bed for Foster to hold the language tightly in her maw.
Other songs hold subtler surprises, like the Dylan-esque harmonica that jets through the splashing cymbals and rickety percussion of “Cuando Vienes Del Monto,” or the driftwood melancholy of “Dame Esa Flor,” or the darkened twists and turns of “En Esta Larga Ausencia,” inhabited as it is by the spirit of the duende. Perlas is a lovely, understated album, sure in its stride but happy to wander, and somehow peaceable and playful, even as the songs hymn broken hearts.