A couple of years ago, shortly after I quit my job and moved to England to write a damned novel, I went to see Radney Foster play a solo show at a smoky London club. He often stops there on his way to visit his kid who lives in France, and the Londoners who love Radney (and there are plenty) sing along to the beer ballads just as loudly as his U.S. fans. I'd met him during an earlier interview in Dallas, so I approached him after the show to tell him about my move and my poverty, and he congratulated me heartily. "Way to go, girl!" he beamed. "Follow your dreams." Then, "You gotta spend money to make money." This, from a guy who split with his larger commercial success as half of Foster & Lloyd back in 1991, and has been in and out of the spotlight ever since. So he would know.
As a stamped-and-dated Foster fan, I close one eye and hold my breath when I first listen to each new Radney release, and nothing he's done since his 1992 debut, Del Rio, Texas, 1959, stands up to that song-for-song achievement. But it seems another label switch and some downtime have done wonders for his songwriting. Like Del Rio, I'll be listening to Another Way to Go a decade from now. He doesn't have to affect worn-out heartbreak in his voice anymore--despite his ageless face, he's old enough now to make it real. This isn't so much an all-out country album, though it scoots and croons with plenty of twang. Here, Foster, despite the pared-down arrangements and straightforward storytelling, is closer than ever to betraying his love of punk and new wave; slide guitar and violin do the cowboy walkabout underneath Plimsouls riffs and Echo and the Bunnymen intros. It's an unlikely and successful combination in this often disappointing crossover industry. Gram Parsons and Astral-era Van Morrison were as much country as rock, of course, and Foster is working his way into that rarefied strata.
Another Way to Go's themes are as familiar as your own right thumb: love, loss, hope and fear, all washed in Foster's ever-present sweetness. Even at his most incensed or meditative, he's still just about the nicest guy on the planet. And since one of his songs is on the latest Dixie Chicks album, he can continue this solo dream without going broke. Way to go, man.
Freedom Fest in the West End
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