[21 August 2012]
After the duo Foster & Lloyd disbanded, Radney Foster released Del Rio, Texas, 1959 in 1992 and promptly started racking up hits. “Just Call me Lonesome” hit Billboard‘s Top 10 and his duet with Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Nobody Wins”, nearly hit #1. “Hammer and Nails” and “Easier Said Than Done” also hit the Top 40. None of Foster’s subsequent records did as well, be it because of fickle audiences or Foster’s willingness to explore other sounds, although some of his songs were quite successful for other people ( “A Real Fine Place to Start” topped the charts for Sara Evans).
So Del Rio was an excellent record, with some fine tracks. Twenty years down the line, though, it probably wouldn’t seem a likely candidate for an artistic revisit. That’s just what Foster does, though, with Del Rio, TX Revisited: Unplugged and Lonesome. And once you hear the results, you know why. While not nearly as dated as a lot of records that came out in the early ‘90s, the original Del Rio shows signs of the time that it was made, with sonic touches that catered to the commercial radio of the day. Now, with a voice that’s a little lower and more lived-in than the one he had twenty years ago, and presumably without some of the commercial concerns that he had when he was just starting his solo career, Foster is able to present many of these songs in a new way.
Despite the title, many of these new versions aren’t simply Foster with an acoustic guitar. Depending on the song, there are drums, fiddles, dobro, and even full-band arrangements. The new Carpenter-less “Nobody Wins” is a touch slower, featuring prominent and delicate mandolin. After hearing the newly recorded version of “A Fine Line”, it’s hard to believe that the song ever existed as a hard-driving rocker. “Old Silver” sound more plaintive, making fine use of Foster’s new vocal range to sound like it’s a lost chapter of Lonesome Dove. It’s a weathered song, being sung now by someone a little weathered. Overall, the record feels more open and relaxed than its original incarnation, and sounds no less country.
Surprisingly, Foster resequences the record, too. He adds one new song, “Me and John R.”, an uptempo song about loss and freedom that finds itself on the open road. Co-written with Jon Randall Stewart and Darden Smith, it’s a fine song that shows Foster hasn’t lost his knack for writing a good country song. “Me and John R.” seems to mark a dividing line for the album. The four tracks before it follow their original order, but after the new track, Foster mixes things up a little. Most noticeable is “Went for a Ride” as the album’s closer. Always a strong song, it now feels more lonely, more epic.
It could be argued that albums like Del Rio, Texas, 1959 are wrongfully robbed of their longevity by whatever studio sheen was popular in the day. Re-recordings like these help to remedy this, maybe getting back to the artist’s original intent, or perhaps acknowledging that the passage of time affects everything, even the characters in songs. In the case of Del Rio, Texas, 1959: Unplugged and Lonesome, everyone involved sounds older, wiser, and a little more timeless.