Radney Foster straddles the worlds of Nashville pop and indie twang like few other artists can... As half the 1980s duo of Foster & Lloyd, he threw his hat into the big ring, but later retrenched and went back to the warm embrace of the alt-country scene. Equally comfortable with big production and intimate acoustics, Foster has crafted some of the more subtle and complex records of the Americana boom... Here's a quick look at his work!
Foster & Lloyd "The Essential Foster & Lloyd" (BMG, 1996)
A welcome look back at late-'80s country rockers Bill Lloyd and Radney Foster, a singing, songwriting duo that made the jump from Austin to Nashville, largely on the strength of one monstrously catchy, rockabilly-inflected single, "Crazy Over You," which mixed some fine 'billy guitar riffs with a solid Texas shuffle backbeat and some swell pedal steel playing. It pegged out at #4 in the charts, and while their subsequent efforts never quite recaptured the magic appeal of that one song, or lived up to all their "next big thing" buzz, they did make some nice music before parting ways in 1990. This is a generously programmed 20-song retrospective that does a great job summing up their career. Some of the material can be monotonous, but mostly it's pretty fun. Recommended.
Foster & Lloyd "Faster And Louder" (RCA, 1987)
Foster & Lloyd "Version Of The Truth" (RCA, 1990)
(Produced by Radney Foster, Bill Lloyd & Rick Will)
Their second and final album as a duet, this is packed with perky, bouncy neobilly twangtunes, following their formula to its ultimate conclusion. It's a nice record, more consistently satisfying than their first, but it fared poorly in the charts, and they broke up soon afterwards. If you like Rodney Crowell, you oughta dig this, too.
Radney Foster "Del Rio, TX, 1959" (Arista, 1992)
(Produced by Steve Fishell & Radney Foster)
His first solo album after leaving the Foster & Lloyd duo was kind of a mixed bag. There's some really good, really rootsy, honkytonk-style material that opens the album up, and a couple of great weepers, like the doleful acoustic tune, "Closing Time." In between, though, he drifts into iffy territory, a song or two where the lyrics are too strained or difficult to focus on, and others where the music recalls the formulaic, pop-tinged approach of the Foster & Lloyd days. (One of these songs, of course, hit #2 on the charts: "Nobody Wins..." Once more, my tastes and the mainstream are a little out of synch...) Overall, though, for a major label release this sounds like a veritable Americana triumph. Definitely worth checking out.
Radney Foster "Labor Of Love" (Arista, 1995)
(Produced by Steve Fishell & Radney Foster)
There are some nice tracks on here, and also some stuff that sounds pretty belabored and clunky. But Foster does have a knack for a nice melody, and though most of these songs kinda drag on for too long, looking for a groove to settle in, the ones that work are pretty nice. A mixed bag, but worth checking out.
Radney Foster "See What You Want To See" (Arista, 1998)
Big, sleek, drippy Daniel Lanois-esque, vaguely Dire Straits-y production, with the twang well buried under a heavily synthetic pop feel, and lots of wordy, wordy, overly clever lyrics. Hey, an artist's got a right to record whatever they want to, but that don't mean we have to like it. I find this album pretty torpid and alienating. Awful!
Radney Foster "Are You Ready For The Big Show?" (Dualtone, 2001)
Straddling the mainstream and outlaw country camps, Foster forges ahead with a mellow singer-songwriter set that seems to have overtones of Jimmy Buffett and James McMurtry, with plenty of easygoing David Lindley-esque slide guitar laid into the grooves. I don't find this particularly catchy -- no real "pop" tunes or catchy country shuffles -- but it sounds okay. If you like Robert Earl Keen, Jr., this is very much in the same mode. Plus, it was recorded live, so you get a chance to check out Foster's bona fides as a performer... Also comes with CD-ROM video extras on the disc...
Radney Foster "Another Way To Go" (Dualtone, 2002)
Well, it's pretty poppy, but at least the production isn't as turgid as the See What You Want To See album... This, at least, seems like more effective commercial fodder; dunno if Foster dented the charts himself with this one, but I can certainly see several of these songs getting picked up by other folks in Nashville and carried up the charts, particularly songs like "Everyday Angel" and "Real Fine Place To Start." Foster seems more confident and collected on this album, and while I'm not that fond of this style of over-the-top production, the songwriting's concise, and there's a strong enough melodic core that I can hang with the album pretty much from start to finish. Plus, there are a couple of really nice songs on here, notably the slow acoustic weeper, "Disappointing You," which is a real gem. One of his more consistent records, worth checking out whether you're coming at it from an indie/alt or Top 40 perspective.
Radney Foster "And Then There's Me (The Back Porch Sessions)" (Radneyfoster.com, 2004)
(Produced by Radney Foster)
An outstanding self-released album, packed with soulful, stripped-down acoustic tracks, searching lyrics and elegant, tasteful musicianship. Nice to hear him play with such restraint, and not strain to hit some kind of rock-star highs. "Fools That Dream" and "Half Of My Mistakes" are faves... "Little Babies Like To Suck On Their Toes" is a super-cutesy novelty song that new parents might enjoy; Foster explores parenting on the album's closer as well, a sweet lullaby titled "Godspeed," reprised from 1999's See What You Want To See. Not much else to say about this record, except that it's really, really good -- possibly my favorite Radney Foster record. Highly recommended!
Radney Foster "This World We Live In" (Dualtone, 2006)
One of the strongest albums of Foster's career, this electrified set sounds a lot like Robert Earl Keen's ouvre, although I'd say Foster -- when he hits the right groove with his lyrics -- moves me more than Keen ever has. Anyway, the comparison is mostly about the guitar-heavy, roots-rock sound the two Texans share... Personally I'm not into the whole crank-up-the-volume, guitar hero approach, but I can unerstand why a lot of people like it. What matters is that the songs speak for themselves, and this disc has plenty of winners on it, notably "Drunk On Love," which opens the album, and a couple of tunes reprised from Foster's jaw-dropping acoustic Back Porch Sessions album, released back in '04. "Fools That Dream" is a great song, with a haunting, lost-in-the-wind chorus that'll clutch at your heart, whether it's played plugged in or not. I'd say, go get both records, this one and the acoustic one, and you'll hear a major Americana artist playing at his peak. Recommended.
Radney Foster & The Confessions "Revival" (Devil's River Records, 2009)
A soul-searching gospel album! This one slipped past me when it came out, but I hope to track it down and check it out someday soon... Looks interesting.
Foster & Lloyd "It's Already Tomorrow" (Effin Ell, 2011)
(Produced by Radney Foster & Bill Lloyd)
Fans will be psyched by this reunion of the country duo, fabled for their wry, uptempo country hits of the 1990s and for launching the career of alt-country icon Radney Foster... It's full of bouncy, rollicking, rock-tinged numbers, and quite a few catchy tunes. Bill Lloyd certainly brings out Foster's less-complicated, more melody-oriented side, and fans of their old stuff are sure to enjoy this one, too... Check it out!
Radney Foster "Everything I Should Have Said" (Devil's River Records, 2014)
Hick Music Index