When Radney Foster’s name is mentioned, his classic album Del Rio, Texas 1959 (his birthplace), his success with the duo Foster & Lloyd, and his hits for mega country stars come to mind. In a career that has straddled that line between Texas and Nashville, Foster hunkered down with producer and multi-instrumentalist Will Kimbrough and a host of Music City’s best session players to record this collection of tales. The recording is only half of the ambitious project as each of the ten songs inspired a book of short stories that bears the same title. The liner notes for each tune reference the longer story in the book. But, we’re commenting here only on the album itself.
These are, for the most part, deeply personal and warm stories. “Greatest Show on Earth” evokes family nights spent together in West Texas while his version of his penned “Raining on Sunday,” a huge hit for Keith Urban, carries a nuanced tenderness that the hit lacked. The opening title track is the reflection of a family coming together after a tragic loss, finding some peace in the comfort of each other. Similarly, the closer, “Sycamore Creek,” wrings emotion from a failed relationship into hope that something positive will emerge from the struggle.
Yet the album’s themes go much broader than love and family. Perhaps the standout track is “All That I Require,” a warning of fascism that is taking hold both here in the states and in Europe. There’s an accompanying music video for this tune with footage of the regimes of Hitler and Stalin. On the contrary, there’s the romance and light-hearted innocence of “Rock & Roll Slow Dance” and the surprisingly bluesy ode to Howlin’ Wolf in “Howlin’,” featuring both Kimbrough’s licks and Foster’s wolf-like moan.
The recording is sonically exquisite, showcasing Foster’s relaxed vocals amidst the overarching theme that hope can always conquer the most difficult struggles. It just often takes time to come to terms with those realizations. For all the profundity in the messaging, Foster pulls it off effortlessly. Beyond the warm voice and soothing sounds, the listener needs to keep delving in to fully appreciate the beauty of the writing.