“I’m always trying to find a little piece of the truth,” says Texas singer-songwriter Radney Foster. WithEverything I Should Have Said, the truth is laid bare. His first collection of new songs in 5 years opens with “Whose Heart You Wreck,” a stormy lament to a fickle muse and closes with the title track, an unflinching apology for things done and left undone.
In between, Foster uncovers the smaller truths in life, whether in the confessional “The Man You Want,” the frustration behind “Lie About Loving Me” or the playful frankness of “Unh, Unh, Unh.”
“My challenge is, how do you have another take on a love song? How do you keep it interesting?” For Foster, it meant leaving Nashville behind, and bringing a suitcase full of songs and like-minded musical friends to Louisiana.
“I wanted the album to have a band feel, and to do that I knew we needed to get away from schedules and cell phones.” They landed at Dockside Studios, a little pocket of soul alongside the Louisiana bayou. The space is the site of a long-forgotten brothel, and far from the sterile studios of Nashville.
“When you’re sitting with the moss is hanging from the trees and the bayou rolling by, you can’t help but have your songs slow down and get swampier.”
The sonic difference is evident right from the first track, “Whose Heart You Wreck (Ode To The Muse)” “The song is about the crazy struggle of inspiration, and we recorded it using a bunch of found objects. The drum kit was made up of trashcans, a piece of angle iron, and a big gear plate. There were a lot of Tom Waits style atmospherics going on behind me, but I was playing a straight-up, double thumb style guitar blues, almost like Doc Watson would have done.” Listening to the track, you can imagine the floor-creaking business that once took place upstairs.
Songs like “California” and “Holding Back” also benefit from the introspection of recording at a remote spot, while the late night groove is evident on “Hard Light of Day,” and “Unh, Unh, Unh.”
Co-producer Justin Tocket encouraged Radney to dig deep. The recordings were magic—fun, loose and lasting late into the night. Foster and Tocket intentionally chose not to over polish, preferring to keep the sweat and tears on the tracks.
Case in point, the album’s title track and closer, “Everything I Should Have Said,” which Foster calls the emotional centerpiece of the record. The song and performance are breathtakingly intimate, like he cracked his heart wide open for all to see, and yet somehow the sentiment is universal.
“I’ve gotten to an age where I feel like I don’t have anything to prove,” admits Foster. “And that’s very freeing when it comes to playing, singing and recording.”
“Telling stories is embedded and ingrained in my DNA,” he continues. “My grandfather was a cowboy raconteur and a storyteller. He didn’t sing songs, but he sure told stories around the campfire. There’s a long, long history of yarn spinning in Texas, and I like to think I come from that tradition.”
Considered an elder statesman of Texas singer-songwriters, Foster has been a friend and mentor to many younger artists on the Texas scene. He’s written and produced songs for Randy Rogers, Jack Ingram, Kacey Musgraves, Wade Bowen, Josh Abbott, Pat Green, Cory Morrow and many others. His songs are regularly mined by superstar acts like Keith Urban (“Raining on Sunday,” “I’m In,”), Sara Evans (“Real Fine Place,” “Revival”) and the Dixie Chicks (“Godspeed”).
Foster grew up in two worlds – herding cattle on horseback at his grandfather’s East Texas ranch in the summers and hunkering over a transistor radio in West Texas hometown, listening to border radio. “My house in Del Rio was a mile from Mexico, so I heard everything growing up – from country to conjunto.” That hybrid of influences may be why Foster’s always been tough to categorize; his first success was with the seminal country/cowpunk duo Foster & Lloyd, whose first single, “Crazy Over You,” went straight to #1. His subsequent solo albums told tales through a honky tonk lens and yielded enduring hits “Just Call Me Lonesome” and “Nobody Wins.”
In the mid-90s, Foster went through another turning point. In the midst of a divorce, remarriage and custody crisis of his young son moving overseas, he gave up trying to please Country radio and recorded a CD that brought him to a whole other audience. “See What You Want To See changed the way I make records,” Foster muses. “It was such a tumultuous period in my life, but it made me realize that when you are that close to the bone honest, you make great music.” “I think this is one of the most emotional records I’ve made since then.”
Throughout his 30 year career, Foster has continuously stretched the boundaries. “I strive to challenge myself as a writer, a musician and a singer everyday.” As his voice has deepened and grown richer, so, it seems, has his focus. These are the songs of a full-grown man, who long ago left fear by the side of the road.