Are You Ready For the Big Show?
Dualtone Music Group
Radney Foster’s latest is a live record recorded at The Continental Club in Austin, Texas last September. It finds him both revisiting his musical past and giving a glimmer of where he might be headed in the future.
Foster is someone who tends to get lost in the cracks because of his eclectic talent. He was half of the duo Foster & Lloyd (with Nashville underground pop king Bill Lloyd) that had a number of country hits in the ’80s. On his own, Foster charted with tunes like “Just Call Me Lonesome” and “Nobody Wins” (both included here in revamped versions). But because the guy doesn’t wear a hat, he doesn’t really fit into today’s country radio. Yet Foster couldn’t really be called alt-country, either, because there’s very little edge to his music. He’s got a casual vocal style that at times sounds like Jimmy Buffett, of all people. On the new song “Tonight,” which opens and closes the record in live and studio versions, he even mentions margaritas.
Foster is tastefully backed on the record by a band that includes veterans of Foster & Lloyd, Nickel Creek, Steve Earle’s Dukes, and Dolly Parton’s band. Mike McAdam on slide guitar, Jeff Armstrong on the Hammond B-3 organ, and Chris Thile on mandolin all do exceptional work. It might have been more interesting, however, to hear a live record from his tour for 1998’s See What You Want to See (represented here by three tracks). That record saw Foster experimenting with some different sounds, and found him backed on the road by the intriguing Nashville pop band Joe, Marc’s Brother.
As it is, this record has a couple too many smooth, soulful ballads and not enough live sparks. Still, Foster has an honest, thoughtful sensibility that he brings to tunes like “Leaning on What Love Can Do” and “How You Play the Hand.” And I like how the latter tune complements “Nobody Wins” lyrically.
But the best thing here may be one of the bonus tracks, a spirited re-recording of the Foster & Lloyd chestnut “Texas In 1880” with guest Pat Green that rescues the song from the clutches of dated ’80s production. It’s still one of the best songs Foster has written.