Jeffrey Foskett has had a long career in Japan sounding like the Beach Boys. Finally, there's a collection of this talented vocal chameleon's 'greatest hits' available in North America.
I'm always amazed at the seeming injustice when certain artists are virtually ignored in their home country, yet have a successful career overseas. Jeffrey Foskett is a perfect example of such a case. Since the start of a solo career in 1990, Foskett has released nine albums in Japan -- yet Stars in the Sand is his first North American release on a distributed label (actually culling the best songs from his previously-released import recordings). Go figure.
In all likelihood, this is a marketing ploy to try and capitalize upon Foskett's recent high profile success as musical director and contributor to studio and live performances of Brian Wilson's SMiLE. But ultimately, the motivation doesn't matter -- only the end result does -- and thankfully, the spoils go to the North American listening audience. Finally, we hometown guys and gals get to hear a smattering of what we've been missing this past decade and a half from the multi-talented Foskett.
Jeffrey Foskett started out as a member of the power pop band the Pranks in the late 1970s (with Randell Kirsch and Bo Fox). They enjoyed a large following in California, but Foskett left the band for an opportunity to tour with the Beach Boys. After many years performing with the Beach Boys, he began a solo career.
Most of the 14 tracks on this collection were produced with great polish by Gary Griffin along with Foskett -- many of them featuring Foskett on all instruments and voices. There's no denying he's a talented musician, but his greatest instrument is undeniably his voice. Foskett is something of a vocal chameleon, and he has great range (he's often introduced on tour as the "CEO of falsetto"). Rumor has it that he sometimes doubled vocals along with Brian Wilson on SMiLE, and that would make sense (after all, one's voice at 62 doesn't necessarily hit all the high notes one could manage thirty years earlier). In truth, Foskett has made a career out of sounding very Beach Boys-like -- his biggest hits in Japan emulate that sound. But let's talk about this collection.
A songwriting collaboration with Chicago guitarist Robert Lamm opens Stars in the Sand. This all-Foskett rendition of "Living Alone" is actually a very finished demo that Foskett sent to Lamm, shiny mid-tempo pop that's easy on the ears. While that opening track is good, it doesn't quite prepare you for the quantum leap awaiting you next. Close your eyes and let the strains of "Thru My Window" (co-written with Michael O'Rourke) wash over you. It's in the style of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, an eerie similitude that will have you convinced you've discovered a lost song from decades ago. This was the song that started his solo career, and what a start that must have been.
Being a real sucker for infectious tunes, I'd have to say my favorite track here is "It's My Fault," a Foskett composition that dates back to his days with the Pranks. This is a great melodic, three-minute pop gem, complete with harmonies and lead vocals smooth as butter, the kind that stays in your head long after you've stopped listening.
"Baby It's You" is another infectious winner, a collaboration with Doug Fieger of the Knack (who plays rhythm guitar and splits vocals with Foskett here). Foskett next does a great cover of the Bill Lloyd/David Surface song "Cool and Gone". This smooth, lush production features all vocals by Foskett.
When Foskett covers the Carpenters' hit song "Hurting Each Other" (actually first recorded by the Guess Who, and then by Ruby and the Romantics), he makes it his own by making it someone else's. What Foskett does is translate the song in the style of the Righteous Brothers (he actually approached Bill Medley to sing on it, but it never came to be). Foskett becomes both Bill and Bobby, and it's a most impressive result.
"Fish!" was Foskett's first top 10 hit in Japan (it shot up to #3) and was used in several commercials throughout the Pacific Rim. This cute song trades on Foskett's Beach-Boys type vocal abilities (along with some nice saxophone leads), and obviously, the surf was up on the Asian charts.
Another song that will have you running to wax your board is "I Live for the Sun", a cover of the Richard Henn hit song from the Sunrays. Foskett's vocal harmonies are exquisitely done. To best complete the trilogy of Beach Boys-style, Foskett gets help from the genuine article. Covering a Brian Wilson/Tony Asher song called "Everything I Need", Foskett enlists the help of fellow Wilson band member and Wondermint Darian Sahanaja on keys, as well as Brian himself sharing vocals.
Another favorite of mine here is "The Word Go". This collaboration with Foskett's real life partner and talented musician Jeff Larson is one of his personal favorites as well. It's aural ear candy -- the sweet, dulcet sounds of clean, catchy radio-ready pop -- and it gets me every time.
Those still unconvinced of Foskett's vocal morphing powers should give a good listen to "The Mystery of Moonlight". This song, another fine collaboration with Robert Lamm, could easily be a Chicago song from long ago, featuring Foskett as Peter Cetera. This is mellow soft pop at its best, Chicago-style.
The next two songs take a welcome turn in the direction of Marshall Crenshaw. First, Foskett gives us a beautiful harmony-drenched version of Crenshaw's "You're My Favorite Waste of Time". It's a great cover of a phenomenal tune. He follows this up with a superb unreleased song by Crenshaw and Bill Lloyd, and actually gets both Crenshaw and Lloyd in on the action. Once again, Foskett is the vocal chameleon as he shares the mic with Crenshaw, incredibly transforming himself into a second Marshall Crenshaw. Meanwhile, Crenshaw plays his 1965 Stratocaster to great effect in accompaniment.
The CD closes with an intriguing a capella/Beach Boys multiple harmony approach to the Neil Sedaka classic "Laughter in the Rain". While this isn't really the full song as such, it's a fun vocal exercise (and features some help from Valerie Carter). Stars in the Sand is a marvelous collection of sweet music that really shows Foskett's fine vocal abilities to great advantage. Additionally, Foskett provides informative liner notes about each track included here. Why Foskett isn't better known locally is one of those inscrutable mysteries. His talents are enormous -- he possesses a great sense of melody and song arrangement and a voice that's pure pop heaven. If you like the Beach Boys, you need to discover Jeffrey Foskett (as Brian Wilson already has). The great thing is this: at age 48, Foskett's finally got a "greatest hits" CD released on his side of the Pacific.