Radney Foster – See What You Want to See (1999)
purchase this album
As the bespectacled half of the late-’80s country duo Foster & Lloyd, Radney Foster was the logical choice for anybody who wondered where the pop genius in hits like “Crazy Over You” (download) came from. Appearances can be deceiving, though — it was Bill Lloyd, bolo tie and all, who had pop roots; after Foster & Lloyd splintered, he returned to the jangly power-pop solo career he’d begun before. Foster made his solo debut with 1992’s solid (and surprisingly trad-country) Del Rio, TX 1959.
Just when it seemed you could write Foster off as simply another hat act, though, he decided that cowpoke hits like “Just Call Me Lonesome” and “Texas in 1880″ weren’t what he wanted to record. He moved from Arista proper to its short-lived “alt country” imprint, Arista Austin, and set about making See What You Want to See.
It’s a stunning record for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which being that it has the kind of hard-fought emotional weight that you simply wouldn’t expect from a guy who’d thus far made his bread and butter on hooky, tongue-in-cheek, mainstream country. This is an album made from, and about, scars — the scars of childhood, of growing up, of love and loss — but it’s too hopeful to ever be maudlin, and that mood is perfectly reflected in the production and performances. From the shimmering, world-weary “I’m In” (download) (featuring sublime vocals from another of my Austin favorites, Abra Moore), to the bitter resignation of “I’ve Got A Picture” (download), these are wonderful, deeply resonant songs about battles lost and lessons learned.
The album’s centerpiece is the closer, “Godspeed” (download):
God bless Mommy and matchbox cars
God bless Dad and thanks for the stars
God hears”amen”wherever we are
And I love you
Godspeed, little man
Sweet dreams little man
Oh, my love will fly to you each night on angels’ wings
It’s a great piece of music even if you don’t know the gut-wrenching story behind it. The Dixie Chicks had a hit with their version — providing some welcome padding for Foster’s wallet in the process, no doubt — but I prefer the original.
Foster has continued making music since See What You Want to See, but I sort of doubt he’ll make another record as compelling as this one. I kind of hope he doesn’t, actually; songs like these are earned the hard way.