Radney Foster,
Are You Ready for the Big Show?
(Dualtone, 2001)

I have been waiting for a new Radney Foster record ever since his 1998 musical journey See What You Want to See. That record marked a departure for Foster from the rather predictable and mythical realm of "new country" to a new category of gritty roots-rock-country that he made his own.

Are You Ready for the Big Show? is Foster's first live record -- and he apparently should have done one much earlier. He is a great live performer -- his voice is strong and filled with so much emotion. He recorded this record at the Continental Club in Austin, in his native Texas. It has a definite homecoming feel to it -- with a crowd that is appreciative of his talents, as well as those of his bandmates, including Chris Thile on mandolin, Ashely Arrison on backing vocals, Byron House on upright bass, and Mike McAdam on electric and slide guitars.

Foster favourites like the honky-tonkin' hit "Just Call Me Lonesome," his smash "Nobody Wins" and the popular "I'm In," which Foster says he can't not play, are interwoven with lesser-known songs like "Went for a Ride," from his 1992 debut Del Rio, TX 1959, and "God Knows When" and "Folding Money," from See What You Want to See. There are also a few previously unreleased songs here, which gives me hope for an upcoming studio recording.

Highlights of the record include "Tonight," which he co-wrote with country heavyweight Mac McAnally, and "I'm Used to It." With lyrics like "Just another minute without you / But I'm used to it / Just the ordinary heartache I go through / But I'm used to it / Whoever said, 'Time heals all wounds' never had to lose someone like you," it's no wonder that Foster has retained a loyal fan following since the beginning of his career. And for those of us unfortunate enough to have to go without seeing him live, this record is a good substitute. I can tell that he's having a great time on stage, which is one of the things that helps me to really enjoy live performances -- it adds so much to the songs to realize that the songwriter still enjoys singing them.

If you're a fan of Foster's earlier work, I would definitely recommend tracking down this recording -- it'll tide you over until the next studio record. If you've never heard Foster's unique take on life or his particular brand of roots-country-rock, I encourage you to pick up this record -- you won't be disappointed by Are You Ready for the Big Show?, and it will give you a pretty good idea of what he's all about.

[ by Rachel Jagt ]
Rambles: 21 December 2001

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