With her trilling soprano and soft thumb-and-forefinger plucks, Josephine Foster radiates the air of a pale, isolated Emily Dickinson–like figure. Yet, there is something alien about her work. An opera-school dropout, Foster has performed with her bands Born Heller, and the Supposed, and, most recently, taken the solo path, the last of which found her truly at home with her art.
Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You is a subtle affair of moonlight folk, with Foster's whistling and cooing made even more eerie by the simple palette of bells, wooden spoons, and sitar behind her. Songs like "Crackerjack Fool" build on the oral folk tradition, borrowing the "hush little baby" nursery-rhyme refrain, and "The Golden Wooden Tone" dishes out grim castaway lyrics ("Throw away my food/And find a dish of stone/Perhaps I would be fuller/If I started at the bone.") A new solo album, A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, is forthcoming from Chicago indie label Locust Music in April and she'll no doubt be exercising those new numbers at tonight's show.
Though she is often categorized alongside Karen Dalton and Shirley Collins, what separates her from the Appalachia-via-grad-school folkies is that Foster sings about an imaginary past. It's this obscure, anachronistic approach that makes her more of a countercultural figure, à la Tiny Tim. Her art's not old-fashioned if it's plucked from a time that never was.