Monday, November 12, 2012

Concert Review: Radney Foster at Natasha's Bistro & Bar - Lexington, KY

Radney Foster's solo acoustic tour in support of his new album Unplugged & Lonesome: Del Rio, Texas Revisited made a stop in Lexington, Kentucky two Thursdays ago on November 1st, playing to a small but lively audience at Natasha's Bistro and Bar. Foster tasted mainstream country success with country-rock duo Foster and Lloyd in the late eighties and early nineties, and after the duo's final album (well, for twenty years anyway), released his solo country debut, Del Rio, Texas 1959 in September of 1992, the album's title originating from Foster's own date and place of birth. Spawning three top-twenty singles (including the song he's probably most known for, "Nobody Wins," which peaked at number two), the album has endured through the years as a bonafide honkytonk classic. To meet the demands of fans asking to purchase the now out-of-print album after shows, Foster decided to not only re-release the album, but completely re-work and rearrange it as a more somber, bluegrassy affair, he and the musicians recording live and in-the-round in the studio. Thus, Unplugged & Lonesome was born.

Based on videos on Youtube and various articles I'd read about Foster's solo shows, I was looking forward to hearing one of my favorite songwriters discuss the backstory and process behind the writing of some of his most beloved pieces of work. He certainly did not disappoint in that regard; Foster is a storyteller at heart. At some point between delicious pints of Lexington's own West Sixth IPA, I decided to start jotting down a few notes, including several terrific quotes taken (mostly) verbatim from Foster's pre-song blurbs. Natasha's is a wonderful venue to experience a show performed by just a man and his guitar, even moreso when it's a master of the craft such as Mr. Foster. Between the music and the stories and the beer and the atmosphere, it was certainly a night to remember.

Louisiana Blue (new music video)

Don't Say Goodbye

Both of these tracks are on the original Del Rio and on Revisited. At this point I hadn't started jotting anything down yet. What I did learn was that most people in the small crowd were indeed Radney Foster fans, singing along and applauding and shouting after each tune.

Just Call Me Lonesome

Foster, speaking at the end of the song: "I stole that lick from Johnny Cash."

Raining On Sunday

A track co-written by Foster that Keith Urban famously recorded and took to #3 on the charts. Foster said Urban's decision to record it was good timing as his wife had recently told him, "We need a new kitchen." As he introduced the song, the Texas troubadour delivered one of his greatest lines of the night: "With all due respect to Mr. Urban, this is the West Texas version right here."

Me and John R.

Regarding how the idea for this song came about, Foster stated that someone said the words to the first line  ("Me and John R. got nothing to lose") and it took off from there. It is the only new song that was recorded for Unplugged and Lonesome.

It was at this point in the show that I also jotted down how precise and pristine Foster's guitar playing was. It was quite obvious he's been at this singing-songwriting-guitar playing thing for a good while.

Half of My Mistakes (live acoustic video by MusicFog)

Introducing the song, joking with the crowd: "I can tell y'all have made a lot fewer mistakes than I have, dressed as you are and sitting in this fine establishment eating a good meal." That may have been true for some people in the audience, but everyone can relate with this line toward the end of the song: "Yea, half the good things in my life came from half of my mistakes."

I'm In

Another one of Foster's co-writes that was recorded and taken to #2 on the charts by Keith Urban. In another line-of-the-night contender, Foster stated that one time he was speaking with Mr. Urban's wife and -- pausing to let the moment sink in for the audience -- he said, "Nicole Kidman told me my song was sexy." Someone from the audience shouted, "She's right!" It turns out that Urban and Kidman were driving around in Australia listening to Urban's iPod on shuffle when "I'm In" came on and Kidman advised the guitar maestro something to the effect of, "That song is sexy. You should probably record that one." It being one of Urban's "favorite Radney Foster songs," he heeded those wise words much to everyone's benefit.

Went For A Ride

This being my favorite Foster song, I recorded the performance with my iPhone. Here are some of things he said about it:
-It's written about a real guy in history who was born a slave in Tennessee and went on to become a Buffalo Soldier for the 10th cavalry at Fort Clark, Texas near Foster's hometown of Del Rio.
-He got so good at riding and shooting that he started playing at little rodeo exhibitions all over the West.
-He hooked up with Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley, and others, and was part of Cody's famous western circus show.
-Supposedly he's the guy that taught Annie Oakley how to shoot at a target while riding a horse.
-As Buffalo Bill's Western Show toured over in Europe, this gentleman was one of the first people to go up the Eiffel Tower. He also got a medal from Queen Victoria.
-Foster: "But if you know anything about rodeoing, you know one thing, and that is it's a young man's game. It's hard on your body. So after all the rodeoing was done, he still needed a job. So he moved to Nashville, Tennessee and got a job as a Pullman porter. And I thought, Man, what a life! I figured it deserved a song."
-Foster's website tells that the song is about a cowboy named Nat Love and is told from the perspective of one of his running buddies. For more information on Nat Love, check out his Wikipedia entry.

After playing "Went For A Ride" Foster said, "You're not supposed to play two ballads in a row because everyone falls asleep." Of course, he did anyway, and of course, no one fell asleep.

Easier Said Than Done

Foster stated that he had someone tell him once, "Man, until you played this acoustic I didn't realize how much of a downer it was." Being about the hard road of forgiveness and trying to right the ship after infidelity in a relationship, it most certainly is. And it sounded fantastic.

Angel Flight (music video)

Foster: "This song has literally changed my life. It's just hard to describe. We really did our best to tell the story without being political in any way." I would certainly say they succeeded; the song is powerful no matter your political affiliation. It is about the flight that brings soldiers who have fallen on the field of battle back home to their resting place.

Texas in 1880 (the classic music video)

Before launching into this song Foster shared a story about telling his parents he wanted to play music for a living. My memory is hazy here, but I believe he said he woke them up in the middle of the night to tell them but the words would not come out. Foster says of his mother: "She thought I'd either gotten a girl pregnant or was trying to come out of the closet." The most enlightening thing he says about the song, though, is that it's not really about the rodeo, it's about dreamers. And that makes perfect sense. Based on the lyric "Sometimes you make eight, sometimes you hit dirt/ Go on a pin another number to the back of my shirt," I've always thought the song was great metaphor for never giving up despite the trials life may hurl your way. Turns out, I guess that was kind of right. This is my favorite Foster and Lloyd song.

At this point Foster walked off the stage to cheers, only to return mere seconds later for his encore. "I'm a cheap date," he said. "Real easy."

A Little Reival

After playing this song from his latest solo album, Foster acknowledged two people close to the stage who'd apparently been requesting a couple songs all night. "I'll play both of them," he said.

Closing Time

Only a simple introduction was needed: "This is a drinking song."

Godspeed (live video featuring Jerry Douglas on dobro)

"For those of you young enough, you don't know what a cassette is..." Foster began. He wrote this song for his son when he and his wife were going through a messy divorce, so it's obviously very personal. He put it on cassette and gave it to his son, very young at the time, as a gift. "I think sometimes God gives you a song, certain ones anyway, to humble you," he said. The Dixie Chicks later recorded the song for one of their albums. You can find more on the background behind it, including a story about when the Dixie Chicks cut the track, here.

As expected, it was a great show. Though he may have peaked commercially years ago, in today's mainstream music landscape, that unfortunately says more about an artist's age than it does about his art. If you ask me, we need the presence of a few more gray-haired sages on the country radio waves. It's clear that between touring, recording, producing, and reviving Foster and Lloyd, Foster's still staying busy and still at the height of his creative powers. At a little bar two Thursdays ago in Lexington, he certainly proved that to be true.

Only time will reveal the stories Radney Foster still has left to tell. And we would all be blessed to hear them.

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