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Joe Putrock

Let’s Be Serious

Idealistic young folksinger Adam Foster makes music with a purpose


Adam Foster is a serious young man—and a folksinger. Sitting at the bar at Justin’s on Lark Street, he seems almost monklike and ascetic (an impression the glass of cola at his fingertips does nothing to dispel). His hair is shorn nearly down to stubble and a khaki-colored coat covers his lean shoulders and thin arms. (Some of his gauntness probably can be attributed to a particularly potent bacterial infection that struck him during a local show a few months back, laying him up in the hospital.)

The only thing running counter to Foster’s austere image is a black T-shirt with a giant, colorful rendering of Elvis Presley’s head. (It’s a far-from-ironic gesture: The folksinger is simply a big fan of the King.)

In conversation, Foster—speaking in relatively quiet, sober tones—vacillates between amiably chatty and darkly pensive. For someone in his early ’20s, Foster can indeed, at times, seem a serious young man.

And he has created a serious young man’s album with his self-titled debut, a stark 10-song CD that (but for its literal, often idealistic lyrics) wouldn’t seem out of place in Bob Dylan’s early canon. Beyond the oft-used and obvious Dylan comparison, you can also hear earlier influences in Foster’s work: Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie. You can detect it in his nimble and fervent flat-picking, wheezing harmonica and unadorned, clear vocal style, which, in classic folksinger fashion, keeps the words out front.

The conflict between light and dark that one senses in conversation with Foster also plays itself out on record: Most of the songs are charged with conflicting themes of temptation and redemption, the struggle to live a straight life with the proverbial Devil close by. It quite simply sounds like a folk album with Catholic undertones—and it pretty much is. “I had a pretty heavy Catholic upbringing that I resisted for years and never really bought into,” mutters Foster, a Newtonville native and Shaker High grad. “I spent X number of years of my life being programmed and the last few years just trying to deprogram myself.”

It’s a precociously mature album, and Foster also spins a colorful yarn in conversation, unfurling tales of a charming bigamist grandfather from the South and a distant kinship to classic American songsmith Stephen Foster. But he doesn’t like to hide too much behind metaphor when penning lyrics. “That’s one of the biggest problems I have with writing: nondirectness. You can be metaphorical, and you can have it be poetic—but [I feel] you’ve got to be direct.”

Keyed up, Foster points to a typically cryptic Dylan example: “ ‘Jewels and binoculars hang from the head of a mule’—what is that? Sometimes I feel like it’s images just for images.” But, he admits, “Maybe that’s a problem with my writing too, that I don’t paint the picture, that I’m just telling you and not showing you. . . . Maybe it’s my control-freak nature: I just don’t want you to miss the purpose of what I’m saying.”

Foster also possesses a fierce, almost straight-edge idealism, noting that one of the things that prompted him to take the solo track in the first place was trying to put together bands with “self-destructive bandmates. I kind of had to distance myself from them. . . . I think being self-destructive is very selfish for the rest of society, especially if you have the ability to make people happy in some way or another.”

Foster’s idealism, which plays out in his lyrics, certainly separates him a bit from peers and his influences. “Without Love,” a dead ringer for early ’60s Dylan, is actually a fairly direct paean to simply the need for love in one’s life. But atop some gritty, rustic flat picking and heaving dust-bowl harmonica, the song doesn’t come off cloying or obvious.

“Into the Woods” is a John Hammond-sounding acoustic blues rave-up about a rebellious teenage girl who “goes into the woods after school to get high.” But what starts out as tongue-in-cheek suburban blues with a little Delta dust on its Nikes, culminates in something more foreboding when the perplexed parents of the early verses are supplanted by the Devil himself, needle in hand, beckoning to up the ante.

Foster has been peddling his serious-young-man’s suburban folk around numerous Capital Region venues over the past year, and has a show lined up at NYC’s Bitter End in the coming weeks. He has also been collaborating with Manikin Ed, a local rock band with whom he occasionally fleshes out his songs live.

Along the way, a couple of experiences have been transformative for Foster. The first was some time spent attending the University of Hawaii in 2000 and 2001. “The way music is a part of life out there is inspiring. People just carry a ukulele to class and walk down the street playing it,” remembers Foster excitedly. “Oh my God, the rock bands would have a, like, electric ukulele player . . . perfect pitch like you wouldn’t believe all around.” But this portrait of a Don Ho paradise also had a more sinister slant. “It has a dark side too. There were about eight murders while I was there. Crazy stuff too: murder-suicide off the top of a hotel, a girl found on the side of the road, tattooed and dead. . . . There’s also a real sense of—you see it any small town—where it’s like, ‘I’ll never get out of here.’ ”

Another experience that left its mark was a gig a couple of months back after which he ended up in the emergency room. “It turned out to be a bacterial infection,” he explains. “I think I ate something bad.” Mid-set, he began to realize that something was terribly wrong, but continued. “I was so ill. But I wish I had recorded it. In my mind, I felt like it was one of my best performances ever. . . . It was playing from a place that was like . . . I don’t know. You become real desperate. I felt like it was so pure. It felt like I was singing to keep my adrenalin up to stay alive.” He actually ended up being hospitalized and bedridden for a couple of weeks.

But, like some of his early 20th-century-troubadour heroes, he dug deep and finished the set. “I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I always respected how certain [artists] took things so seriously. And I wasn’t about to disrespect that.” Then Foster seems to catch himself getting all serious again, and breezily laughs: “It was unbelievable!”

Brian Kaplan Band

WE’D LIKE TO THANK OUR FANS: On May 4, the Brian Kaplan Band won the Roots of Rock Band Battle that took place at Jillian’s in downtown Albany. The band will now advance to the regional finals, which will be held in Manchester, N.H., on Sunday (May 14). The winner of the Manchester competition will then go on to compete at the national finals in Memphis. To thank their fans, the band organized a bus trip to the regional competition. For $25, fans will receive round-trip transportation to Manchester, lunch and snacks provided by Michele’s Deli, on-board acoustic performances by the band and other area musicians, and vouchers toward Brian Kaplan Band merchandise. The bus departs Delmar at 9 AM on Sunday morning and will return by 9 PM Sunday night (the competition will be held from 2 to 5 PM). To RSVP, or for more information, contact Jeff Mirel at 935-4858 or send an email to info@3000revolu

LISTEN HERE: There’s a new monthly music series in town (well, Saratoga Springs, specifically) called Open Ears. Kamikaze Hearts’ warm and fuzzy Matthew Loiacono is behind this new creation that takes place at Better Than Toast (Downstreet Marketplace, 454 Broadway, Saratoga Springs), a newly renovated nonprofit record/vintage clothing store and art space. He started the series to feature out-of-town acts who are passing through the Capital Region and are willing to perform for small audiences without microphones and amplifiers. “I’ve been meeting and connecting with tons of amazing acts since I’ve taken over booking for the Kamikaze Hearts this year,” says Loiacono. “I want to offer a nice, relaxing gig for the musicians and offer the community some music they might not have heard yet. Hopefully, folks will be curious enough each month to come and see what is going on.” Sunday, May 22, at 3 PM (with a $3 donation), marks the second performance in this series; the featured artist is Texan Jana Hunter, whose song “Farm, CA” was selected by Devendra Banhart for inclusion on the Golden Apples of the Sun compilation. Keep an eye on our concert calendar for future shows.

SAMPLE THIS: Sara Ayers’ new album, A Million Stories, is almost finished and is expected to be available to the public in June. Ayers, who has been voted Best Electronica in these pages, has had a few moments of fame lately: As we reported previously in this space, a sample from “Everyday We Die a Little” off her album Voices can be heard on the new Chemical Brothers’ album, Push the Button. And a small segment of “Soundtrack to Angel #3” (from Sylvatica) was used on VH1’s Behind The Music: Britney Spears. Ayers describes her new CD as “a cross between ‘Are You Coming Home’ [from her disc Sylvatica] and ‘Interiors’ [the title track of Interiors]—a 38-minute sound collage alternating between despair and exhilaration.” There is a bunch of self-sampling on the album, too—take a listen at www.sara, where you can download “Induration” off the new disc.

HERE’S YOUR GREAT DAY FOR UPDATE: Local hard-rocking band Great Day For Up recently have undergone a few lineup changes. The lineup is now Mike Langone on vocals, Mike Vitali on guitar, Brendan Slater on bass and Jared Krak on drums. The group expect to release their debut on Small Stone Records, called Flores de Sangre, in late August or early September. The record was recorded and engineered by Ethan Dussault at New Alliance in Boston, and it’s currently being mixed in New Jersey by Bob Pantella (of Monster Magnet fame). GDFU will embark on a short tour before they head out to Emissions From the Monolith Festival in Youngstown, Ohio, later this month. Visit greatday for more information and tour dates.

—Kathryn Lurie

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