Name game: Josephine Foster and Sarah White’s Josephine defy the Americana genre

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Josephine Foster’s enchanting, idiosyncratic folk returns to the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. Will she want her van back? Publicity photo. Josephine Foster’s enchanting, idiosyncratic folk returns to the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. Will she want her van back? Publicity photo.

Josephine Foster sings in a high, witchy whisper with an operatic lilt. Her wild, ethereal flightiness grounded by her prim enunciation and classically perfect pitch. She occasionally collaborates or plays with a backing band, but usually accompanies herself on solo guitar, harp, or ukulele. Her style is both baroque and bizarre, suggesting music from decades or centuries past while still possessing its own unique, undefinable quality.

Her music is effortlessly pretty, but is also strange and affected enough to keep the listener on his toes. Even when she veers into whimsy or silliness—quoting a lullaby, or imitating bird calls—the effect is more disarming than amusing.

Foster’s music operates on its own terms, her idiosyncrasies challenging the listener to find the joy in discovering them. She made her recorded debut in 2004, on the legendary Arthur Magazine-curated compilation Golden Apples of the Sun, which also introduced the wider world to Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, Vashti Bunyan, and White Magic. The association tagged her with the “freak folk” and “new weird America” labels, and while the usefulness of those genre terms is still debated, fans of those acts (as well as lovers of kindred spirits like Marissa Nadler and Lavender Diamond) will find much to admire in her music.

Foster last appeared at the Tea Bazaar in 2006, bravely lugging her harp up the steep stairs and playing an unamplified set to a small, reverent crowd gathered at the foot of the stage. Though seemingly on a visit from her own private universe, Foster evidently felt a deep affinity for the Tea Bazaar staff, and when her tour van failed to start the next morning, she gifted it to the venue’s tea server without a second thought, completing her tour via rental car.

Josephine Foster will return to the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar on Saturday, June 1, along with her husband, Victor Herrero, and her former tour mate Diane Cluck, another unique folk musician (and Golden Apples contributor) who now calls Charlottesville home. Tickets are $7, and the concert begins at 9pm.

 

May day

Sarah White’s music has worn many names over the years, from her early days as the frontwoman for rock band Miracle Penny to her solo albums on Jagjaguwar, her many appearances backed by the rotating cast of Sarah White and the Pearls, and her gospel duets with Sian Richards as The (All New) Acorn Sisters. Each of these acts made a fitting showcase for White’s impeccable songwriting and performing chops, erasing the boundaries between rock, country, and folk, united by her distinctive and wonderfully sad voice. Whatever form it takes, her music is always some of the best material coming out of Charlottesville, and has long been deserving of wider recognition.

Her latest group was formed from the last incarnation of the Pearls, and includes former GWAR bassist/current UVA professor Michael Bishop, and virtuoso guitarist/Jim Waive sideman Charlie Bell. Though their sound is only slightly different from the Pearls’ more rock-oriented material, White felt the need for a new band name to signify a fresh start. She’s given the new act the name Josephine (no relation to Josephine Foster) and their new single is called “The Last Day of May,” though the similarity to Charlottesville’s late-’90s noise-rock band Last Days of May is just a coincidence.

The record’s debut on Friday, May 31 is no coincidence, however. Sarah White and Josephine will perform at The Garage, celebrating the release of the song through County Wide Records, on a 3-track, 7″ EP entitled Beeline. The event will also include a screening of the “Last Day of May” music video, created by students in the Light House Studios film program.

The video, like the song, is utterly straightforward—a bittersweet portrait of the end of a relationship, as White sings “On the last day of May,/I made up my mind to leave you.” The video mimics the song’s lyrics directly: a couple argues, intercut with the young woman wistfully carrying her suitcase to the bus stop through the lovely spring weather. There are no surprises here, but the execution is effortlessly professional, and the video has made the rounds at several youth festivals, winning awards at the Virginia Student Film Festival and the Pendragwn Youth Film Festival, and placing as a finalist in the Los Angeles Film Festival’s Future Filmmakers Showcase and at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth. For local viewers, much of the appeal may be in spotting local landmarks, including the Downtown Mall, the nearby railroad tracks, and an apartment in the Pink Warehouse. White herself cameos as a street musician busking on the mall near Central Place.

The release party begins at 8pm. The event is free, though The Garage does pass a hat for donations, and the band will have the 7″ single for sale.

 

What’s your favorite musical incarnation of Sarah White? Tell us in the comments section below…

 

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