I was introduced to Radney Foster in college by a roommate who played me a copy of his solo debut Del Rio, TX 1959, a fantastic album that sidled up to Nashville but kept a foot firmly planted in his native Texas.
This, however, is not that record. Instead, this is his follow-up, Labor of Love, and whereas the former saw Foster sticking to the better angels of his songwriting nature, the latter finds him succumbing to the more base demons of country music circa the mid-nineties. The title says it all –it sounds like a bad country song. It is a bad country song. Worse, it’s a bad country album.
Part of Foster’s appeal back then was that he came across as somewhat of a Nashville outsider, albeit one working to kick the doors in. No hat. No pre-fab manly-man appeal. In fact, he rather bore a resemblance to R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, with erudite glasses and decidedly uncountry hair. But where Del Rio sounded like a road trip through dusty south Texas into Acadiana, Labor of Love has the sterile feel of a Nashville recording studio. Overproduced, overwrought and littered with cliches and unimaginative lyrics.
It opens with the promising “Willin’ to Walk”, and then quickly descends into New Country power ballad hell. Songs like “If it Were Me” and “Precious Pearl” are cringe-inducing, and betray the overwhelming fault of the album: banal verses, constructed solely to get to the crescendo of syrupy choruses. It sounds like a man trying too hard to please too many people. Which is too bad, as the outsider’s stance suited him well.
*Y’know, at first I was going to include this in my list of bad music investments (for the record, ten bucks on cassette in 1995, maybe the last cassette I ever purchased?). But as I never paid a dime for Del Rio, TX 1959 and have listened to the absolute hell out of it, I’m calling it even.