Radney Foster crafts story songs with singular grit and grace. Clear evidence: The celebrated songwriter’s Del Rio, TX 1959. Twenty years ago, the contemporary country classic showcased a songwriter in peak form with hits brassy (“Just Call Me Lonesome”) and bruised (“Nobody Wins”) and buoyant with blues (“Easier Said Than Done”). “Del Rio’s arguably the best country record I’ve ever made,” Foster says. “So many young singers and songwriters come up to me and say, ‘I wore that record out.’” Take Darius Rucker. “I told Capitol in my second meeting that if they wanted me to record Del Rio, TX, 1959 all over I’d be fine with that,” the country superstar says. “Radney Foster’s my biggest influence.”
Two decades on, Foster’s new Del Rio, TX Revisited: Unplugged and Lonesome reinvents his hallmark solo debut as an ambitious and haunting acoustic collection. “This time everyone was in the same room, with live takes with no fixes and no headphones,” says Steve Fishell, who produced the original Del Rio and played guitars on Revisited. “We have all new tempos and new grooves. Imagine the original version of Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla’ compared to his 1992 live unplugged version and you’ll get the idea.” Gloriously transformed high watermarks include “Don’t Say Goodbye,” “A Fine Line” and “Went For A Ride.” Elegance matches endurance with favorites (“Old Silver”) and bonus additions alike (the stunning new meditation “Me and John R.”).
Foster’s extraordinary session band effortlessly achieved transcendence. In early March, Dixie Chick Martie Maguire (fiddle), Jon Randall Stewart (guitar), Glenn Fukunaga (doghouse bass), Michael Ramos (keyboard) and Fishell entered Austin’s Cedar Creek Recording with specific missions: Loosen all restraints. Shoot for the heart. Let feeling guide. Gems quickly emerged. “Things worked out beyond my wildest expectations,” Foster says. “Twenty years ago, I worried about every single detail. With this new record, you have these incredible musicians doing surprising things on the fly. There’s a looseness yet remarkable precision. You stop worrying about minutia and you start saying, ‘Does that communicate? Do you feel the emotion?’”
Foster enthusiasts can guess the answer. Others have discovered proof positive in his songs made popular by stars like Keith Urban (“I’m In,” “Raining on a Sunday”), Sara Evans (“A Real Fine Place to Start”), the Dixie Chicks (“Godspeed,” “Never Say Die”), and Gary Allan (“Half of My Mistakes’). Of course, Foster’s first work in the late 1980s country duo Foster and Lloyd (“Crazy Over You,” “Fair Shake”) alone displays his indelible portraits both timely (“What Do You Want from Me This Time”) and timeless (“Texas in 1880”). Del Rio, TX Revisited: Unplugged and Lonesome simply doubles down. “These songs are still as real to me,” Foster says. “They take on different meanings because it is 20 years later, but the stories still resonate.”
Folks laughed hard and played harder throughout the three days recording. Familiarity continually greased creative wheels. “I don’t do a lot of sessions, but I was so flattered when Radney asked me,” Maguire says. “I actually had the original Del Rio on cassette and it’s one of the handful of records in my life that I really, honestly wore out. When I went back and listened to the tunes, I knew all the words and chords. This record sounds very Texas in the chord progressions and the licks and these songs feel like how I learned to play fiddle. I felt very at home.”
Spin “Louisiana Blue” for evidence. “I’m gonna pack my bags, turn up my collar, put on my travelin’ shoes,” Foster sings as Maguire nimbly balances his most lonesome landscape. “Go down to New Orleans and turn Louisiana blue.” “It was really fun to have Martie’s feminine perspective,” he says. “The timbre of her voice and the richness of the tone that she gets out of the fiddle is remarkable. She has this way of playing things that sound deceptively simple, but she’s putting a lot of emotion into the notes. When she and Jon Randall started playing bluegrass tunes in the studio before anything happened, I thought, “This is gonna work!”