Born and raised in Joplin, Missouri, Kenny Foster graduated from Belmont University in Nashville in 2004 with a degree in philosophy and American culture and after years of ‘toiling in obscurity’ (his words, not mine), personal tribulations (read the ‘About’ section of his website to learn more about that, www.kennyfostermusic.com) and struggles he, at the age of 34, has finally released his full length, debut album and what an album it is too! They say you should always write about what you know and Foster has channelled all his years of frustration, of hard work and a large dose of philosophical rumination into ‘Deep Cuts’, making it one of the most authentic, open, honest and real albums you will hear this year. If you yearn for Country music that is more than just ball caps, babes and beers you may well find solace and redemption in Foster’s music, just as he clearly has done in making the album.
Thematically, ‘Deep Cuts’ is dripping in integrity. From the thought provoking cover to the thick, lovingly put together insert booklet, it is clear that this project is a labour of love. The songs reflect Foster’s interest in the human condition and what drives and motivates us. The biggest driver for Foster himself is clearly adversity. In lead single and ‘statement song’, ‘Stand’ he sings about, ‘When I fall, I still believe, when you think I can’t get back up again, is where I stand.” The song starts slowly and builds, adding layers of instruments until finally climaxing in a big, gang vocal chorus, almost spiritual in both sound and intent. Similarly, ‘Revival, the penultimate song on the album, is engineered to sound like something you would hear at a tent revival meeting somewhere out in the mid-west. Breezy guitars and radio-friendly hand claps make it an obvious choice for a future single, it being not too dissimilar from Maren Morris’ ‘My Church’. Again, Foster wants us to learn from our mistakes and from the things that life throws at us as he sings; ‘Gotta walk through fire and brimstone, to step out of that old skin, let the pain die with your sorrow and you’ll be born again.”
Further songs on ‘Deep Cuts’ reflect Foster’s interest in both philosophy and human nature. ‘Hearts That Bend’ is a quiet, meaningful song about men and their frailties. Verse 1 introduces us to a taciturn grandfather whilst verse 2 is about a relationship imploding due to the stubbornness of men. “Rivers wind and willows sway, branches bow on stormy days. The difference between us and them, is that they don’t make men with hearts that bend.” It’s so refreshing to hear a male Country artist singing about real issues and ruminating on matters of the soul, so used are we to nightclubs, trucks and tan legs. Album closer, ‘Wood and Steel’, is another quiet, acoustic song about male strength and fortitude. “There’s still one good measure of a man, and that’s what he makes with his two hands,” Foster sings, closing down the album in full philosophy mode, his raspy voice making the listener analyse their own shortcomings and enabling them to think about their own relationships with the men in their lives – that’s some skill right there, the ability to produce music that burrows deep into your psyche, unearthing long forgotten memories and voices.
The song that is probably the epitome of all that Foster is trying to say sits at track 8 on ‘Deep Cuts’. ‘Change’ is a huge, huge piano ballad that feels like the culmination of everything that Foster has been working towards. All his own personal struggles, trials and tribulations have been channelled into this one, deeply intimate song. He urges the listener to embrace adversity, to forge character in the face of fire and to use resilience as a tool for growth – and the song would slay on radio too!! Huge vocals, big melodies and an amazing sing-a-long chorus, this sing is the poster boy for the whole album and I hope it gets the chance to shine.
Similarly, ‘Caught’ deserves its day in the sun too. A Kip Moore-esque beat and gang vocal ‘Hey’ drive this radio hit in waiting along from the off. Another song about taking chances and living in the moment, this one is less intense than tracks like ‘Change’ or ‘Hearts That Bend’, which is why I think it might do well at radio. There are large sections of the album that remind me of the mood and rhythms of Kip Moore, that ability he has to use quiet reflection and mid-tempo urgency in tracks like “Hey Pretty Girl’. Foster and Moore could be musical cousins, sharing a commonality whilst remaining distinct enough to have their own appeal and foibles.
Two more songs, ‘The Good ‘Ol Days’ and ‘Old Fashioned’ see Foster yearning for the integrity and authenticity of the past. In the former he sings about seizing chances and realising that now is actually ‘the good ‘ol days’ whilst in the latter, a song in which he sounds eerily similar to Jacob Dylan of The Wallflowers in both tone and intonation, he sings about integrity and how he would like to ‘turn back time and slow things down,’ about how we can learn from the past in informing our decisions in the present and the future. Some cracking fiddle and another big, sing-a-long chorus makes ‘Old Fashioned’ another album highlight and potential single release.
There are lighter moments on ‘Deep Cuts’ and these can be found in two songs written for and about Foster’s wife. ‘Good Enough’, a sort of Country cousin to Bon Jovi’s ‘Born to be my Baby’, sees Foster singing about the struggle in the first few years of marriage. How that adversity can bring a couple closer together if they embrace the challenge and find a few moments to live for now. A jaunty little guitar riff and driving drum beat will make this one a live favourite whilst ‘Everything’ sees Foster answering the question that every man has been asked at some point in every long-term relationship: ‘What is it about me that you love?’ This one, too, also has Kip Moore overtones as he runs through all the different things that it could be before settling on the one word in the title as the reason. Track 2, ‘Made’ also fits in with Foster’s belief in love and family. It starts quietly, reminiscent of ‘Stand’ but whereas that song built towards a bombastic end, ‘Made’ stays restrained and is all the better for it. A delightful chorus, augmented by lovely, ephemeral backing vocals supplied by Daisy Mallory and a haunting use of steel guitar sees Foster imploring us all, again, to be happy with what we have and know a good thing when we see it. One of the strongest songs on an album chock full of quality.
‘Deep Cuts’ is a powerful statement of intent. Part album, part treatise on the human condition, part self-help manual and 13 years in the making. Kenny Foster should be immensely proud of what he has achieved, with little help, backing or support from the genre or the industry. Sometimes albums come along that are bigger than the genre they are positioned in and ‘Deep Cuts’ is one of those for me. Sitting proudly alongside Jason Isbell’s ‘The Nashville Sound’ as one of 2017’s most important albums, it oozes authenticity and class. It’s commercial enough to make sales headway but Foster has refused to sacrifice any integrity in the hunt for numbers – there are no hip hop beats here, no nightclub rhythms or skinny jeans – this is simple, heartfelt Country music. A UK tour in late August – early September beckons and you would be a fool not to take that opportunity to see an artist of quality on our shores. Let’s just hope that ‘Deep Cuts’ gains the audience it deserves and that the follow up album doesn’t take the same amount of time to see the light of day!
Twitter : @rockjames