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Josephine Foster - Graphic as a Star

  by Robert Fisher

published: 7 / 1 / 2010

Josephine Foster - Graphic as a Star
Label: Fire Records
Format: CD


Sparse and naturalistic latest album from folk musician Josephine Foster, who has set to music twenty six of the poems of nineteenth century poet Emily Dickinson

Last winter, Josephine Foster found herself in an isolated small mountain town in Spain with little to keep her company or entertained beyond her guitar, harmonica, voice and a few books including a collection of poems by Emily Dickinson. Like others before her, including the classical composers Aaron Copland and Ernest Gold who both turned Dickinson’s poems to music, Foster was inspired to turn twenty six of the poems into a record. Dickinson (1830-1886) was almost unknown as a poet in her lifetime with only a very few poems being published by the time of her death. Less than a dozen compared to the very prolific catalog of poems found by her sister who, thankfully. went against her sister's wishes that all her papers be burned, and published some eighteen hundred posthumously. The poems are often short in length and have recurring themes of morbidity, gardens, gospel and the open territories of the inner mind illustrated in light and often witty verse. Dickinson was a famous eccentric, rarely seen in public and then only dressed in white and, though always social, eventually chose to seclude herself. Guests during the last fifteen years of her life often had to converse with her with a door between them as she conducted her friendships and affairs almost exclusively by letters from her homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts surrounded by her beloved gardens. Perhaps there is a connection between the isolation of the poet and the isolation that Foster describes as the genesis of this recording. Foster writes, “ Whether for the irony of distance and homesickness being 3 years away, or through an inevitable kinship with this long dead lady these songs seem to veer more towards America than ever before.” The songs that compose 'Graphic as a Star' are more antiquarian field recordings than fully realized studio efforts. The windows are all open, the natural room sounds frame the instruments, and the birds in the garden are background singers. Small sketches of guitar and harmonica join in with the natural elements finding a place in the minimalist arrangements supporting Ms. Foster's voice as it rises and falls with the words in a sort of early 20th century style that mixes folk, polite parlour blues, and opera with the results being remarkably like the sort of singsong innocence that children employ when entertaining themselves in the intimacy of their rooms. There is a sameness to the melody and musical interpretations of the poems that allow the often very short songs, matching the brevity of their parent poems, a connectedness that makes it easy to listen to this as a whole piece. If there is a criticism to be leveled here it might be in this sameness of tone, melody and tempos that some will find difficult over an album’s length. Others will see this as a sort of meditation, as Foster catches the thread of a melody and by repeating it stitches together the poems like the American quilt that adorns the cover. And with the image of songwriter as quilter and poet as seamstress, the Belle of Amherst should have the last word here: Don't put up my Thread and Needle— I'll begin to Sew When the Birds begin to whistle— Better Stitches—so— These were bent—my sight got crooked— When my mind—is plain I'll do seams—a Queen's endeavor Would not blush to own— Hems—too fine for Lady's tracing To the sightless Knot— Tucks—of dainty interspersion— Like a dotted Dot— Leave my Needle in the furrow— Where I put it down— I can make the zigzag stitches Straight—when I am strong— Till then—dreaming I am sewing Fetch the seam I missed— Closer—so I—at my sleeping— Still surmise I stitch— Emily Dickinson

Track Listing:-
1 Trust In The Unexpected
2 How Happy Is The Little Stone
3 She Sweeps With Many-Colored Brooms
4 Ah, Teneriffe!
5 Who Is The East?
6 They Called Me To The Window
7 This Is The Land The Sunset Washes
8 Like Mighty Foot Lights
9 Exultation Is The Going
10 In Falling Timbers Buried
11 With Thee In The Desert
12 I See Thee Better In The Dark
13 Your Thoughts Don’t Have Words Every Day
14 My Life Had Stood A Loaded Gun
15 Eden Is That Old-Fashioned House
16 Beauty Crowds Me Till I Die
17 I Could Bring You Jewels
18 Wild Nights - Wild Nights!
19 Only A Shrine, But Mine
20 Tho’ My Destiny Be Fustian
21 What Shall I Do - It Whimpers So
22 Heart! We Will Forget Him
23 Strong Draughts Of Their Refreshing Minds
24 Tell As A Marksman
25 The Spider Holds A Silver Ball
26 Whoever Disenchants
27 Touch Lightly Nature’s Sweet Guitar

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