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For every Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen channeling Woody Guthrie, of course, there are a million marginally talented dudes embarrassing themselves in local coffeeshops. Jeffrey Foucault’s Ghost Repeater proves he’s not one of the latter, even if the Wisconsin-born troubadour sometimes courts cliché as much as his open-mic brethren. Maybe the weather beat it out of him: Foucault moved to western Massachusetts a few years ago, but he returned to the Midwest during a cold snap to record his third album with Bo Ramsey, Lucinda Williams’ former producer. Ghost Repeater evocatively captures the freezing, endless plains not far from the Iowa City studio’s door. The album’s title, a reference to the DJ-less radio stations that relay generic, preset playlists across the nation, introduces Foucault’s existential vision of a broken-down America. It’s elaborated in the lyrics he sings over the slinky chords of “Americans in Corduroys,” a tale of two lovers’ flight from and return to home: “[O]ur country rose to meet us in the air/With all its beauty and its lust/Its diamond teeth and heart of dust.” Ghost Repeater abounds with such dark imagery, with Foucault’s declaration in “Wild Waste and Welter” that “There’s killers on the road/They’re going door to door/With lamp black eyes/And the number on your soul” about par for the course. If you think that means Ghost Repeater is 11 tracks of Ghost of Tom Joad–style American Gothic, Foucault employs a full band, and its liberal use of Hammond organ and steel guitar (the latter courtesy of Son Volt sideman Eric Heywood) marks a smart departure from his minimal previous releases, Stripping Cane and Miles From the Lightning. But if Ghost Repeater is above-average, it’s far from iconic. Foucault’s lyrics can veer dangerously toward surface-level declarations such as “Everyone’s buying/What no one can sell,” and his baritone is a bit too achy-breaky for tasteful alt-country. Johnny Cash—OK, Jeff Tweedy—our man ain’t. Of course, that lack of distraction might be Foucault’s ultimate strength. Ghost Repeater is familiar and personal, the record the one really talented guy at open-mic night might have made. It’s proof that, unlike all those other guys, Foucault is sad because he wants to be.—Justin Moyer