During interviews to publicize his just-released album, Another Way to Go, Radney Foster is hearing different conclusions from those who get paid to express their opinions.
“If I’m talking to a rock critic,” Foster tells CMT.com, “they’ll say, ‘This record moves back to your country direction.’ And then if I talk to a country critic, they say, ‘This is still moving more in that alternative rock direction.’”
Foster doesn’t spend a lot of time analyzing his own stylistic routes. However, he does say that Another Way to Go probably falls somewhere between the country approach of Del Rio, TX 1959 (his 1992 solo debut album) and See What You Want to See (a 1998 project that leaned more heavily toward a pop sound).
“I thoroughly believe that if you ask people out in the highways and byways what country music is, it’s much broader than what Nashville’s powers that be say it is,” Foster says. “A jazz fan is going to tell you that Norah Jones’ record is a country record — and a country fan is going to say it’s a jazz record.”
“Everyday Angel,” the first single from the Dualtone album, has spent several weeks atop the Texas Music Chart. Nationally, the song stands at No. 50 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.
The song is inspired by Laura McCray, an African-American woman who became friends with Foster and his wife, Cyndi. Foster first met McCray at a Nashville church, but it wasn’t until her funeral that he learned that “Miss Laura” had been on the front lines of the civil rights movement in Alabama during the early ‘60s. Foster wrote the second verse from a childhood memory about his attorney father inviting an abused woman to move into their home after representing her in a divorce case. The last verse is about New York City firefighter Dave Fontana, who died while helping others during the World Trade Center attacks.
Directed by Jim Shea, the video for “Everyday Angel” shows Foster walking along the streets and bridges of New York City with his 11-year-old son, Julien. Five years ago, Foster became an advocate for father’s rights when his ex-wife remarried and moved to France with Julien. “My only real time to be with him now is during the summer, so I shut down,” he says. “I don’t do anything.”
Foster made an exception by scheduling a three-day video shoot, but he took his son with him to help out behind the camera. Foster explains, “When we got there, Jim Shea said, ‘Your relationship to your son is very special. You’re basically here showing your son about New York City, what happened here and what a great city it is. I think that’s very integral to the song, and I think he ought to be on camera.’”
Another highlight of Foster’s new album is “Scary Old World,” the last song he wrote with Country Music Hall of Fame member Harlan Howard . The track also features a guest vocal from longtime friend Chely Wright .
Foster’s son was partially responsible for landing a song on the Dixie Chicks ’ new platinum album, Home. Even before Natalie Maines joined the group, the Chicks had recorded Foster’s “Whistles and Bells” for an independent album. “Never Say Die” — a song Foster co-wrote with George Ducas — made its way to the trio’s Wide Open Spaces album. But “Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)” is a song he never expected anyone to record.
“I used to sing my boy to sleep before he moved to France, so I wanted to write something that would be a kid’s lullabye,” he says. “I had put it on a cassette in my home studio so that my son could put it in his Fisher-Price [tape player] at his house in France and go to sleep to it.”
When the Chicks were fielding material for what became Home, Foster says, “They called me and about a dozen other guys they were fans of as songwriters and said, ‘We don’t want publishers to send us what they think we ought to have. We want you to send us your favorites. There’s no telling whether this album is ever going to come out, so just send us something you love.”
Telling his wife of the conversation, she said, “Natalie just had a baby. They might do ‘Godspeed.’ If nothing else, she’ll like playing it as a lullabye to her kid.”
Foster resides in Nashville, but he still has strong ties to Texas and is encouraged by the music scene in the Lone Star state. When asked about some of the Texas media’s sniping toward younger acts such as his friend Pat Green, Foster says, “The critics love to get pissed off at who those guys’ audience is. They are hacked off because they love Robert Earl Keen as a folk artist, but they hate the fact that a bunch of drunk college kids want to sing every word and go down to his shows.
“But I’ll bet money that when those guys were in college, they wanted to go down to a show just as drunk as Cooter Brown and sing every word during a Waylon Jennings concert — and nobody complained then.” Foster laughs, “I mean, cut those kids some slack!”