by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., June 14, 2002 – The popular 1990s folk-rock band Acoustic Junction went through several incarnations. It started out as a latter-day Crosby, Stills and Nash-type outfit, a brother-based group with slight world-beat leanings emphasizing percussion and vocal harmonies.
Over time different instrumental elements entered the picture, including keyboards, woodwinds and violin, with more world-music flavorings and extended improvisations. With its Colorado roots, the group found itself taken up by the jam-band crowd – even though it was never really a jam band – as sort of the jam-band world’s pet folk group. At the same time, with the exit of Stewart Foehl, the brother aspect of the band waned, and Reed Foehl emerged as the frontman, chief singer and songwriter of the group, which was briefly renamed Fool’s Progress in a misguided and ultimately futile attempt to garner mainstream pop success.
Out of the final flameout of that group, Reed Foehl has emerged as a solo artist, with a new album, Spark, and a new band that backed him at Club Helsinki on Thursday night. Many of the elements of Acoustic Junction were still in evidence. The minor-key, folk-rock anthems; the gentle harmony vocals; the vague, world-beat touches.
But the focus is now almost wholly on Foehl and his songs, and he was able to maintain that focus to varying degrees on Thursday night. His opening tune, “The Remedy,” was slow, moody acoustic rock, built, like many of his songs, on a simple bimodal groove not unlike the basic foundation of many Dave Matthews songs. “When It Comes Around” was an easygoing strut, with versatile electric guitarist Joe Boyle snaking lines in and around Foehl’s somewhat monochromatic vocal melody.
“Strange Days,” the title track of Acoustic Junction’s farewell album, had more of an uptempo feel, with a Counting Crows-like pop structure and a rootsy backbeat out of The Band. “Come September,” from “Spark,” had a Native American feel, with jungle percussion by Billy Beard and stark slide guitar. “Days Are Like” threatened to become a pop tune, but Foehl limits his melodies to two- and three-note figures above two chords, so that most of his music is a flattened-out style of groove-folk.
Foehl is a genial frontman with a rich if somewhat bland voice and a natural vibrato that oozes emotional sincerity. While his arrangements occasionally veer from stark to operatic, the music itself – like the scheme of the artwork of his new CD package -- lacks contrast and color. This could be a conscious choice – his songs seem to revel in their fluidity -- but over the course of an hour-long set a listener wants spice, if not variety.
[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on June 17, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]
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