By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 16, 2004 at 5:24 AM

{image1}Jeffrey Foucault has come a long way since his self-released debut disc, "Miles From the Lightning," appeared in 2001. Or, should we say, he's gone a long way?

A Whitewater native, Foucault -- after roving -- returned to Wisconsin, settling in Fort Atkinson and finding a second home at Café Carpe. But after the success of his CD (he released, "Redbird," a collaboration with Peter Mulvey and Kris Delmhorst, in 2003), Foucault packed his bags and left for Massachusetts. But the two aren't necessarily connected.

"There are a number of scenes out here, and I'm not sure I belong to any of them," Foucault says. "There are certainly more gigs to be had, more venues plugged into the circuit I play, clubs situated more closely together. My management is headquartered near Boston (about 100 miles away), and it's worked out that most of the musicians I keep company with live in the Northeast."

All of that is helpful to the career of an aspiring singer/songwriter weaned on the likes of John Prine and Townes Van Zandt, but it's not the whole story.

"The truth is, none of these things had any real bearing on the move," Foucault hints. "I came out to Western Mass to get married. I have no idea about sticking here or moving on. There's a little town in Ireland I think about moving to sometimes. I guess we'll see who wins the 2004 election."

But, long-time fans needn't worry that the move has affected Foucault's music. If the change of scenery is to have an effect, we likely won't see it for a while. He's still an expressive singer, intelligent lyricist and adept guitarist, as is evidenced by his new disc, "Stripping Cane" (Signature Sounds). Anyway, he's been on the road enough that place, while it affects his music, doesn't always mean a change of direction, he says.

"Since I began touring full time ... the tension between home and away, leaving and left has been a preoccupation, and on the new record," Foucault says. "The first track and the last deal with coming home and leaving home, respectively. But physically moving, living in a new place, I think it would be difficult for me to parse out the impact it's had on my music.

"I know that the Midwestern landscape I was raised with is an indelible stamp on my perception, and it colors the way I think about music and language both. But the musical conversation I'm trying to be a part of takes place all through the country, and in various decades, and it's as likely to involve long gones like Big Bill Broonzy and Jimmie Rodgers, as it is contemporaries like Greg Brown or Tom Waits. It's a conversation that doesn't depend on where I'm paying rent."

In fact, "Stripping Cane" is something of a musical journey across America and across time. There's some country blues, some 12-bar blues, some gospel, some folk. A bit of everything rootsy. He says the title track, "explores (the) idea of prying sweetness from an unforgiving source," but he appears to have little trouble extracting goodness from the Americana sourcebook.

That may be due in part to some outside vision. This disc marks Foucault's first collaboration with a producer, David Goodrich.

"I had been touring on the west coast with my friends Peter Mulvey and David Goodrich," Foucault says, "and Goody was gearing up to produce Chris Smither's most recent record. We had this long conversation about Chris' records and about music generally, and talked informally about having Goody produce my next record.

"It ended up being a really rewarding process. Goody's such a well-listened and thoughtful musician and arranger, and I put a lot of trust in the production choices that he made. The overall production value of the record is still stripped down and spare, but he managed to create a fullness and balance that ties the songs together."

OK, one last thing, Jeffrey. Do you miss the Fort?

"I do. Fort Atkinson is a beautiful little town with a river through the middle of it, just up Highway 12 from Whitewater, which is where I grew up and where all my family still lives. It's a good size for a town, and while there's a little urban sprawl on the outskirts, they've done a lot of work to keep the downtown vital and the big-box retailers out. When I lived there the hub of my universe was the Café Carpe. I'd cut my teeth performing there when I was in school at the UW in Madison, and after school, and a little bouncing around, I wound up moving to Fort more or less because of that bar. It's a wonderful place with great food, and it consistently draws the best nationally touring songwriters. Bill Camplin and Kitty Welch looked out for me and introduced me to some of the heavy-hitters when they came through town, and I home-schooled their son in U.S. History, in exchange for free beer."

Foucault returns to Café Carpe, Thursday, Aug. 19. Call (920) 563-9391 for more information. Foucault's Web site is jeffreyfoucault.com.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.