Solid country from outside the Nashville machine

By Chris Cooper

The name Radney Foster takes me back to the earlier days of home satellite dishes and music television. It was still a novelty to have access to so many things to watch, and in an effort not to be totally biased musically, I perused the music channels regardless of “stylistic format.”

There was this guy named Radney with horn-rimmed glasses and an ‘80s skater haircut on the country channel that just seemed awfully left-of-center, and I dug his music. He fell more on the pop side of things but retained the twang required for country acceptance. Maybe by eschewing the belt buckles and Wranglers stereotype, Foster developed a narrow but more devoted fan base. Maybe he’s just really good.

Skip forward to Foster’s new album, This World We Live In. He’s still got the glasses and the hair — and still not trying all that hard to fit into the modern country shtick.

Tracked in just two days in L.A. with a list of fantastic players from well outside the standard Nashville studio elite, Foster’s latest effort provides a glimpse into just how deep his talent runs. Witness the second track, “Sweet and Wild,” and tell me the murky watercolor intro isn’t the epitome of how a country ballad should feel. Space and mood, tremolo on the baritone guitar, and a story about a first love; it’s a great, classic tune.

The band consists of musicians from the Wallflowers, Keith Richards’ X-pensive Winos, and Jackson Browne’s band. This World We Live In retains a coherent sound while skipping effortlessly through roots-rock, straight country, and R&B flavors — indicating the versatile background of the players, and Foster’s foresight in choosing them.

With the arrangements made on the fly and the limited time available, each player puts his parts exactly where they belong with no wasted notes and very little fancy production. The tones and textures are defined by the song’s needs, as on “Fools That Dream.” With the B3 organ ringing in beneath the echoed electric guitar and Kim Richey’s sparkling harmonies, it’s another fine example of Foster’s prowess with ballads.

However, mid tempo honky-tonk rockers aren’t left out of the mix. Check out “Prove Me Right” or “Drunk On Love” for your pop-informed country fix. “New Zip Code” and its story of the restlessness feels bit Stones-ish in places and a little R&B in the lazy back-beat — but still totally Radney Foster in every way.

His songs have been recorded by performers from the Dixie Chicks to Hootie and the Blowfish to Keith Urban, demonstrating a unique combination of qualities in a modern country artist — equally comfortable behind a pen or onstage, unafraid to take chances and perfectly happy finding success on his own terms.

Sometimes there’s nothing to find fault with in an album. If the songs are great, the music is good and the whole thing feels authentic, what could possibly be wrong?

Foster is simply an exceptional songwriter, drawing from what seems like a richer palette of influence and inspiration than many have available. He fits well into the pantheon of Texas greats, and uses the freedom that comes from being an independent artist to the fullest extent.

This World We Live In belongs in your CD player, and my guess is that it’ll stay there for a good long while. 5 big ol’ stars, pardner.

(Chris Cooper is a guitar teacher at In Your Ear Music Emporium in Sylva. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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