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Radney Foster discovers the world we live in

By Dawn Pomento, June 2006

For a man with a new CD out and upcoming small tours planned, Radney Foster is surprisingly eager to talk about other musicians. His third CD for Dualtone, "This World We Live In," is on the Texas and country music charts. Foster is happy about that. He says he's always glad to know someone other than his parents is listening to his music.

But on a phone interview from Nashville, Foster is just as excited to talk about producing new music as his new batch of songs. On his website, there's even a section for Foster's recommendations for new CDs by up-and-coming musicians. One of those recommendations is the Randy Rogers Band CD, which Foster just produced after co-writing a batch of songs with Rogers.

Another talent is Georgia Middleman, who once upon a time had a CD out on the late Giant Records. She and Foster have also written songs together, and she'll be singing back-up vocals when Foster tours.

So how does a busy producer and songwriter like Foster keep up with new music? He characteristically downplays the unique effort required for an established artist to follow new music. "I'm just out there consciously being a fan of stuff." Foster says, "I still actually buy CDs. There's a great independent store both in Austin and Nashville where I tend to find a lot of stuff. And in addition to that, I get handed lots of things or people will open for me."

That same kind of engaged interest in the world and other people is what makes Foster's songs smart and memorable. Even the tunes dressed up like good-time honky tonk music, like "Drunk on Love," can't help but toss in some images that stick, like "dancin' on a bar doing my very best cowboy ballerina."

On fun songs or serious songs, one trait that threads threw Foster's catalog is a subtle empathy. It comes across that Foster likes people and enjoys life. Foster also admits that he reads a lot, and that influences his songs. "I love good novels and good short stories, and that can't help but show up in your writing if you like good stuff. I mean whatever you like, if you like cars, it can't help but show up."

"I don't think you can listen to 'Kindness of Strangers' and not realize that I'm a pretty big John Steinbeck fan. I mean the descriptions are pretty similar to what he does. But I don't know if there's anything overt. I've certainly stolen a few titles," he says with a laugh.

"The Kindness of Strangers" on the new CD is the only one or which Foster claims solo songwriting credit. Otherwise the songs are all written with other writers with various levels of fame.

He's obviously comfortable with collaborating. Foster told a story at a recent acoustic promotional show about convincing his family to let him drop out of college and try his luck at songwriting. As an adult, and a father himself, he's especially grateful now for his parents' understanding and support.

Plenty of kids think about becoming a songwriter, but Foster was able to find modest success early following his dream. He reached a greater notoriety as half of a songwriting duo with Bill Lloyd from 1987 to 1990 with such hits as "Crazy Over You," "Texas in 1880" and "What Do You Want From Me This Time."

After three Foster and Lloyd albums, the hits, and critical acclaim, Foster pursued a solo career, but he didn't give up collaborating. "Early on in my career, I always wrote with lots of different writers and still by myself as well. They're two completely different processes," Foster explains. "To write a song by yourself tends to be a much more emotional thing. Sort of hunker down in the basement for several hours and mull over it."

"The co-writing process is almost like group therapy in a way. But it's also just getting together with someone who is musically inclined and having coffee with them - or a beer at five o'clock. But I actually do take time to make appointments to write with other writers. And you don't always get something, but it is good to make yourself do that. But as far as choosing who they are, I guess it's sort of higgledy piggeldy."

Foster says that there are a handful of writers that he works with well and goes back to over and over again. One of those frequent co-songwriters is Darrell Brown, who has also co-produced "This World We Live In." Foster also has a reputation for supporting songwriters, especially Texas musicians. A lot of young artists contact him through his publisher or his management.

Texas musician Jack Ingram, who isn't a newcomer, shares writing credit with Foster on "Never Gonna Fly." Foster says, "I've known Jack a long time, and we've always threatened to write a song together. Finally he was coming to Nashville and had some time here to write, and it was actually a time when I was here, and so we sat down and wrote a song together. And 'Never Gonna Fly' was the only song we've written together and I think it's a great song."

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