As a stamped-and-dated Foster fan, I close one eye and hold my breath when I first listen to each new Radney release, and nothing he's done since his 1992 debut, Del Rio, Texas, 1959, stands up to that song-for-song achievement. But it seems another label switch and some downtime have done wonders for his songwriting. As with Del Rio, I'll be listening to Another Way to Go a decade from now. He doesn't have to effect worn-out heartbreak in his voice anymore -- despite his ageless face, he's old enough now to make it real. This isn't really an all-out country album, though it scoots and croons with plenty of twang. Here, Foster, despite the pared-down arrangements and straightforward storytelling, is closer than ever to betraying his love of punk and new wave; slide guitar and violin do the cowboy walkabout underneath Plimsouls riffs and Echo and the Bunnymen intros. It's an unlikely and successful combination in this often disappointing crossover industry. Gram Parsons and Astral Weeks-era Van Morrison were as much country as rock, of course, and Foster is working his way into that rarefied stratum.
Another Way to Go's themes are as familiar as your own right thumb: love, loss, hope and fear, all washed in Foster's ever-present sweetness. Even at his most incensed or meditative, he's still just about the nicest guy on the planet. And since one of his songs is on the latest Dixie Chicks album, he can continue this solo dream without going broke. Way to go, man.