Janglerock Cult Favorite Jeffrey Dean Foster Makes a Couple of Rare NYC Appearances
REM was just the tip of the iceberg. The American south was a hotbed of janglerock back throughout the 80s – the Athens band may have triggered the explosion, but there were also the dB’s, Let’s Active and a whole slew of what were then called college radio groups, many of whom got their fifteen minutes on the low end of the FM dial. Jeffrey Dean Foster goes back that far, starting with the Right Profile (whose keyboardist went on to fame co-authoring the Freakanomics books, and whose drummer later joined Superchunk), then the Carneys, and afterward in the late 90s with the Pinetops (the powerpop band, not the Pennsylvania newgrass cult favorites). So it makes sense that Foster’s new album, The Arrow – streaming at Bandcamp – would be produced by janglerock mavens Mitch Easter and Don Dixon. Foster is passing through town over the next few days, with a stop in Brooklyn tomorrow night, Feb 15 at 8:30 PM at 12th St. Bar & Grill, 1123 8th Ave @ 12th St in Park Slope (F/G to 7th Ave). Then on Tuesday the 17th he’s at the small room at the Rockwood at 6 – and afterward, serious janglerock fans who want to make a real night of it can go right next door for Matt Keating’s album release show.
Foster’s new album kicks off with the mid-period Wilco powerpop soundalike Life Is Sweet, a pensively rousing shot in the arm complete with big two-guitar freakout by John Pfiffner and Easter himself. “Life is sweet but it doesn’t last,” Foster sings energetically: his enthusiasm hasn’t lost a step in practically thirty years, something for all of us to consider. Likewise, When You Break looks to Jeff Tweedy at his most animated for its mashup of 90s alt-country and powerpop, fueled by Brian Landrum’s hard-hitting drums and Dixon’s terse bass work.
With its web of watery 80s chorus-box guitars, Morningside has a period-perfect Reagan-era angst: “Watch the water under the bridge downtown, fear and envy running round,” is Foster’s opening line: the menacing ambience grows from there. Foster picks up the pace after that with Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts, a ghoulabilly song in an 80s costume with an aching string arrangement overdubbed by Ecki Heins. After that, The Sun Will Shine Again reimagines Big Star as late 80s REM but with good vocals.
The piano ballad The Lucky One mingles Beatles and late 80s/early 90s Hoboken indie pop: “I used to ride the subway train at four o’clock in the morning, I didn’t know how lucky I was to make it home,” Foster muses soberly. From there the band segues into the fiery, scampering powerpop smash Young Tigers Disappear: speaking of Hoboken, it would be a standout track on a Bongos record. Then they bring it down, ominously, with a stark Appalachian-tinged miniature featuring the eerie harmonies of Tres Chicas‘ Lynn Blakey and Tonya Lamm.
The similarly gorgeous and uneasy Jigsaw Man has a psychedelic shimmer straight out of the Chuck Prophet playbook, as does the more soul-inspired, restlessly ethereal Out of the Blue. Hang My Head On You has a glamrock strut like the Jayhawks doing Bowie, while Open Book puts a 90s alt-country swirl on four-on-the-floor Springsteen rock. The album comes full circle with the steady, straightforward title track and its neat chamber pop touches. All this ought to go a long way toward helping the world get to know a guy whose consistently strong tunesmithing deserves more than a cult following.