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Cold Satellite fuses poetry and music

Posted by Scott McLennan  April 16, 2013 08:47 PM

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Musician Jeffrey Foucault and poet Lisa Olstein collaborate in Cold Satellite

Imagine a collaboration between an award-winning poet and acclaimed singer-songwriter. What comes to mind is probably not nearly as rocking as "Cavalcade," the new record by Cold Satellite, the very real collaboration between poet Lisa Olstein and musician Jeffrey Foucault, two artists making their homes in Western Mass.

"It sounds fussier than it is," Foucault says when told that "Cavalcade" upends preconceived ideas of a poet-folkie union.

"Cavalcade" is about as unfussy as an album gets, pairing Olstein's vivid and impressionistic verses with music that sounds birthed in garages and honky tonks. Cold Satellite corrals an impressive lineup of musicians around Foucault. Billy Conway plays drums, Jeremy Curtis is on bass, David Goodrich plays guitar, Alex McCullough handles pedal steel guitar, and Hayward Williams plays keys and sings background vocals.

Cold Satellite celebrate the release of "Cavalcade" with a performance at the Lizard Lounge, 1667 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, on Thursday, April 18. Caitlin Canty opens the show at 9:30 p.m. "Cavalcade" won't be out on Signature Sounds until May 21, but copies will be available at the show.

"Cavalcade" is the second collaboration between Foucault and Olstein. The two met when Cold Satellite guitarist Goodrich, who is Olstein's husband, produced Foucault's 2004 album "Stripping Cane." Around 2007, Foucault and Olstein discussed setting some of her unpublished work to music.

"It wasn't really something we planned," Foucault recalls. "She had stuff that was not working for her in a notebook."

Foucault gave the words a look, demoed some music with Goodrich and was on his way to making the first, self-titled Cold Satellite record in 2010.

"Cavalcade" continued a pattern of the poet releasing words to the songwriter, each trusting the other in what Foucault describes as "cold collaboration," meaning he doesn't alter the words all that much, and she doesn't get involved in the music. The poems and the music end up in a third place neither artist necessarily anticipated.

"That's the magic of the whole process," Foucault says. "She starts where her writing takes her. Some of her poems process consciousness, using language in an artful way and not necessarily following a linear pattern. I usually have no idea what (the poems) are about. I try not to figure them out."

Rather, Foucault says he is "curating words," fitting them into musical homes that feel comfortable. Well, comfortable being relative here, as some of Olstein's images can be unsettling _ lots of secrets, promises, pleas, and departures filter through this work.

The record opens with the mournful words and musical whirlwind of "Elegy (In a Distant Room)," establishing a pattern of grit and mystery.

Foucault says that while making "Cavalcade" he thought,"We have a lot of different records here." So he shaved off two tunes and ended up with a cohesive_ albeit rangy_ set of songs full of unresolved tensions, especially between couples caught between staying together and splitting apart. Such stories may be routine song fodder, but here the imagery is vivid_ glass hands, careless flames_ and proceedings anything but straightforward.

Olstein has participated in Cold Satellite shows, reading the poems that the band then presents in their musical forms.

"The delivery and stresses change between her reading and our playing," Foucault says. "But that's what poetry is for, something to say out loud."

Or in the case pf Cold Satellite, to sing out loud.
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About the author

Scott McLennan is a Boston Globe music correspondent and previously wrote a music and entertainment column for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for 15 years. After seeing the band Boston in the Boston Garden as a teenager he never looked back and eventually figured out how to be a professional fan. Scott is very good at writing in the dark. This blog is an ongoing discussion about music happening in and around Boston. Scott will be leading the trek across genres looking for new releases and hot shows as well as just checking in with the people who make Boston such a great place to listen. More »
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