Tim Foljahn’s solo records have always been inward looking. They’re written, played and recorded by the man himself, sparsely set, late night interior monologues intoned in an echoey baritone that pretty much defines the sound of being alone.
Sure Foljahn has played with other people — most notably with Steve Shelley in Two Dollar Guitar, but also as a guitar for hire with Cat Power, Townes Van Zandt, Half Japanese, the Boredoms and Thurston Moore’s Psychic Hearts. Most recently, you could catch him on the hit show Orange Is the New Black. He’s a member of Assistant Warden Caputo’s band Sideboob. (In real life, Sideboob’s songs are written and performed by Adopted Highways; that’s Foljahn, Jennifer O’Connor and Tom Beaujour.) Still, despite all this collaborating as a songwriter and sideman, in his solo work, he seemed up to now, fundamentally solitary.
That’s why Fucking Love Songs is so surprising and ultimately so satisfying. It engages with others, specifically significant others, in a cycle of songs about relationships. “While I was writing the songs, I had relationships starting, relationships ending and relationships starting again,” says Foljahn. “It just seemed natural to write about them. People would ask me what I was working on, and I would say, ‘Oh, a bunch of fucking love songs.’”
But it’s not just the other people in the songs. It’s the ones on the record – including two extra guitar players, two drummers, a bassist, even back-up singers — that make this album so densely collaborative. Consider, for instance, “Wild Tonight,” with its slow, blistering lead, its bluesy in- the-pocket rhythm guitar, its sweet, sweeping gospel chorus, its raucous drums. That’s Smokey Hormel, who has played with Tom Waits, Beck, Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, Neil Diamond, Norah Jones and Adele, on one guitar. Foljahn met him while auditioning, twice, for a spot in Beck’s band (Hormel beat him out). Tom Beaujour, the album’s producer/engineer, plays another guitar. Jeremy Wilms is on bass, and Jon Langmead, a drummer for Mark Eitzel and Jennifer O’Connor, punches out the beat. (Brooklyn drummer Brian Kantor sits in on two other tracks.) O’Connor and Amy Bezunartea sing harmonies.
The result is a beautifully layered, dense, full-band sound that amplifies Foljahn’s evocative songs. Bend your ear to “Legends” with its cavorting, porch-picked guitar lick (Smokey again), its lilting, group-sung chorus, its sunny, folk-scented lift. Or check out “Etant Donné” a headlong, full-on garage rocker. “For me this is a totally upbeat pop record,” he admits. Foljahn recorded Fucking Love Songs over a two-year period at Nuthouse Recording in Hoboken with Tom Beaujour (Juliana Hatfield, Nada Surf, Jennifer O’Connor ) producing and engineering. “Tom gets such great sounds,” Foljahn says, “To my ears, his records have more resonance than you hear in current albums. There’s almost a sound of the 1970s in it.”
The main thing, though, are the songs, as cracked and individual as ever, but focused this time on love. “When I listen to a song I really like, I’m glad to be right where I am in the song, but I’m also wondering what’s coming next and a little bit sad when it’s gone,” says Foljahn. You might find yourself feeling the same way about Fucking Love Songs.