BUCKETFULL OF BRAINS (UK)
"If you spend time chasing one album this year make it "Million Star Hotel": an hour of magic from North Carolina's Jeffrey Dean Foster."
by Nick West
Million Star Hotel is like a multi-faced diamond reflecting light into a hall of mirrors. It's full of shimmers of sound floating phantom-like through the ether, suddenly becoming corporeal, solid, robust, and then as quickly bursting again into slivers and insubstantial after-sounds, then turning into before-sounds again.
A classic pop album from North Carolina, in the lineage of How Men Fail and Travels In The South, that unashamedly mines the tradition, the glories, of the greats. This is a record made by someone who grew up in the 70's, whose teenage years must have been spent in cars with radios. You can hear late Beach Boys, Neil Young, Marc Bolan, Glam Rock, and you hear of a time when music and romance were inextricably mingled.
Put together over a number of years, as and when locale allowed, it's a large project and a large album; 14 songs and nearly 70 minutes. They're all real big songs, full of diversity, adventure, and surprise. Well-made songs of the night illuminated by those million stars but created like sculptures or collages; there's always something more. Be it atmospherics, distortions or add-ons, there's always another teasing little sound in the corner.
There are friends here too. Lynn Blakey, recently of Tres Chicas, sings, notably on 'The Summer Of The Son Of Sam', Don Dixon and Chris Phillips take brief turns, Mitch Easter plays guitar and steel and helps produce. But it's Foster's album and it's his persona and his strengths that define it. His tender, warm tenor voice is always entrancing. He writes a good and memorable lyric: "bet her heart on a bobtail loser", "can't even count on losers anymore", "you're on the road but I'm on the street". He can take classic lines and make them new; we know where titles like 'Long Gone Sailor', 'All I Do Is Dream', 'When Will I Be A Man' come from, and we smile with recognition and it helps us, but it wouldn't change a thing if we came completely fresh.
The start is gentle. First an ambience, a little breaking whisper that gradually grows into the tale of a 'Lily Of The Highway'. The major motifs are all here gathered; girls, cars, growth, loss. And its questing and its variance are the promise of what's to follow. A promise absolutely redeemed almost immediately by 'The Summer Of The Son Of Sam'. That summer was 1977, when Elvis and Skynyrd both fell to earth. Over six minutes the song rises from a quiet meditative night with cicadas, lit only by a dying star, into an epic.
Memorable moments persist; there's a splendid twist in 'Little Priest' as it begins like glam rock, with echoes of T. Rex, and becomes a California surf ballad. 'Don't Listen To Me' with its After The Gold Rush piano, might be channeling Danny Whitten. 'Long Gone Sailor' seems at least part-written under the influence of Holland, and if 'Lost In My Own Town' doesn't allude to Big Star then I'm a Dutchman.
Yet every second of this remarkable album cries out to be listened to, experienced, and cherished. Everything here is always doing its part; it's down to the careful listener to find and explore that everything. For these songs will never let that listener down and never stale. Always they'll inspire, and always they'll reward.
Million Star Hotel(Angel Skull)
Singer/songwriter Jeffrey Dean Foster has knocked around the North Carolina music scene since the 80s with the Right Profile, the Carneys and the Pinetops, whose Above Ground and Vertical attracted considerable acclaim. Million Star Hotel, his second disk under his own name, is the album to which he's been building the past two decades. A seamless mix of traditionalist pop and folky roots rock, Million Star Hotel is a travelogue of emotional states presented alternately in fuzzy half-memory and crystal clarity, with warm production (courtesy Mitch Easter in part), engaging melodies and inviting arrangements that highlight Foster's plaintive singing. "Lily of the Highway," "Corner of My Eye" and "I Know How Your Broken Heart Feels" effortlessly blend hope and regret, ambition and humility, craft and heart. It all comes together in the magnificent "The Summer of the Son of Sam," the kind of tune songwriters yearn to create. Million Star Hotel is the culmination of a long journey toward artistic balance, and a strong foundation on which to build more excellence in the future.
POP CULTURE PRESS
JEFFREY DEAN FOSTER
MILLION STAR HOTEL
Sprawling and audacious, almost dazzlingly ambitious, Jeffrey Dean
Foster's Million Star Hotel is the kind of record with depth, soul,
and a kind of spiritual quality that they just don't make anymore.
Though Foster's previous bands-the Right Profile, the Carneys, and The
Pinetops -- all exhibited plenty of promise with little to show for it,
Million Star Hotel is in a different league. Yes, it is a
singer/songwriter record, but it easily dispels the perjorative term.
A kind of throwback to '70's songcraft, to those pre-MTV days when
songs needed no video component but instead relied upon the
imaginations of it's listeners, Million Star Hotel works in subtle
shadings and myriad emotions, stretching indelible melodies over
eloquent instrumental passages, Foster's pliable tenor inhabiting a
meditative dreamworld of love and death, the power of radio and the
automobile and the search for inner peace. "I need a satisfied mind,"
he sings in "When Will I Be A Man," a notion that haunts the songs to
For instance, "All I Do Is Dream", a gleaming gem of a ballad fraught
with ghostly keyboards, grapples with peace of mind: "I wanna sing a
new song, stripped of all we know," it goes, before the song dissolves
into a stunningly beautiful chorus. Part reverie, part renewal, it's
symbolic of the tensions that give the Million Star's songs their power.
Meanwhile, musically the records expansive grasp touches on everything
from folk and country to southern pop (Foster's a native North
Carolinian; Don Dixon and Mitch Easter pitch in), power pop to bits of
glam, the latter on an effervescent number called "Lost in My Own
Town" replete with a quote from a talking dog. Many of the songs are
laid in shimmering beds of acoustic guitar and piano, solid
architecture for the unpredictable forms some of the songs take¡Xin
fact, many present themselves as a series of movements, ala classical
While the road song "Lily of the Highway" and "Don't Listen To Me",
the latter written, Foster says with the late great Crazy Horse
guitarist Danny Whitten in mind, are simply undeniably great, the
piece de resistance is "The Summer of The Son of Sam", an atmospheric
remembrance of that cataclysmic year that zigzags from whispered
acoustic guitars to austere ballad to pounding rocker in the course of
its six minutes.
JEFFREY DEAN FOSTER Million Star Hotel (Angel Skull)
If Ryan Adams had been humble (and smart) enough to distill the best 14 songs from his three recent records onto one we might have Million Star Hotel, by Winston-Salem's Jeff Foster, as musically/thematically articulate as Adams' trifecta is sprawling. Working with co-producers Mitch Easter and Brian Landrum, the former Right Profile/Carneys/Pinetops leader showcases his honey-sweet high tenor, his classic rock-leaning arrangement skills and his instinct for rescuing poetic truths from life's crush. "Lily of the Highway" is so luminous you almost overlook the loneliness and longing seeping from its pores. Both the powerpoppy "The Summer of the Son of Sam" and the anthemic "Lost in My Own Town" have distinctive '70s underpinnings -- respectively, Big Star and The Move. And piano-and-trumpet anti-war meditation "Milk and Honey" smartly recalls Tom Petty circa Southern Accents. Self-released by Foster (go to www.jeffreydeanfoster.com), Million Star Hotel is absolutely not to be overlooked. -By Fred Mills
JEFFREY DEAN FOSTER Million Star Hotel (Angel Skull)
Avoiding the shortcuts and vanity pit falls that plague many self-released projects, Jeffrey Dean Foster delivers a strong personal statement with wide-ranging appeal on Million Star Hotel. The foundation is classic rock - a musical antiquity for some - but like Jeff Tweedy, Foster knows how to sweep out the cobwebs and rattle-test the walls. The narrative is a soul journey. "Lily Of The Highway" begins with a lo-fi vocal, quickly brought to hi-def by a backbeat and a chance encounter on the road. On
"The Summer Of The Son Of Sam", starlight and hope spring eternal as this tune goes from eerie to anthemic in one soaring chord.
Freedom and youthful energy have their limitations. On "Little Priest", the cracks show, as raucous roadhouse is countered midsong by a haunting choir. "Break Her Heart" brings everything crashing down with sharp, poetic concision.
Regret dominates the album's middle third. These songs seem particularly well served by Foster's aching vocals and the dramatic assurance of the production. Resolution comes in a series of dreamy, introspective psalms and more secular prayers, most notably "Milk And Honey". Its arrangement is a departure, with muted voice, horns, keyboards, percussion. "I've seen the end and it's OK," Foster sighs. The effect is serenity with an edge. - JERRY WITHROW
April 6th 2006
THE DAY New London, Conn. Rick Koster
Million Star Hotel
Angel Skull Records
On the one hand, you wonder how many folks like Jeffrey Dean Foster are lurking around out there, of zero interest to major record labels (presumably because they're good and have something to offer other than a jaw line or a resume in a reality show). On the other hand, as demonstrated on this consistently excellent CD, Foster occupies some pretty rarified air. While effortlessly conjuring pleasant aural images of Neil Young, the Byrds, Brian Wilson, and Chris Bell, Foster, over the course of a few listenings, admirably establishes his own identity as a literate songwriter for whom hooks fly off his fingertips like a magician tossing glitter over a room full of awe-struck kids.
FRED MILLS, Associate Editor
Jeffrey Dean Foster Million Star Hotel (Angel Skull)
While it's common to cite the early-'90s ascendancy of the Chapel Hill scene (Merge Records, Superchunk, Polvo, Archers Of Loaf, etc.) as evidence of a golden era for North Carolina, longtime residents know that the mid-'80s was an equally fruitful period. One of the greats was unquestionably the Right Profile, hailing from Winston-Salem (yes, that same geographical-artistic gene pool that gave us the dB's and Let's Active) and specializing in a riveting, drenched-in-emotion brand of rootsy power pop. Sadly, the vicissitudes of the record biz conspired against the quartet: A deal with Arista failed to yield a long-player and the band was history before the decade was out. Drummer Jon Wurster, of course, subsequently earned fame with Superchunk, while guitarist Jeff Foster went on to work with Don Dixon, the Carneys and the Pinetops. Foster eventually tested the solo waters in '02 with the live-and-lo-fi The Leaves Turn Upside Down, and he now returns with his first full-blown solo studio effort, Million Star Hotel. The album is elegantly stoked by co-producers Mitch Easter and Brian Landrum to spotlight Foster's honey-sweet high tenor, his classic-rock-leaning arrangement skills and his feel for rescuing poetic truths from longing, heartbreak and reflection. Highlights include the Ryan Adams-esque "Lily Of The Highway," twinkly power-popper "The Summer Of The Son Of Sam," brash anthem "Lost In My Own Town" (with its outrageous Move/ELO "Do Ya" steal) and the piano-and-trumpet meditation "Milk And Honey" (a veiled anti-war tune recalling Tom Petty circa Southern Accents). If Ryan Adams had been humble (and smart) enough to distill the best 14 songs from his three recent records onto a single platter, we might have Million Star Hotel. Incidentally, even if the name Jeffrey Dean Foster isn't familiar, it's likely his face will at least register on a subliminal level: He was the guitarist in William Shatner's house band for that classic string of Priceline.com commercials featuring Captain Kirk's, er, estimable talents at the microphone. [www.jeffreydeanfoster.com]
New Music Reviews:
Jeffrey Dean Foster
Thursday, December 1, 2005
Jeffrey Dean Foster
Million Star Hotel
Label: Angel Skull Records
If you like: Neil Young jamming with Flaming Lips and Jeff Lynne
Song to download: "Summer of Son of Sam"
(out of four)
Jeffrey Dean Foster has been recording, and rarely releasing, amazing songs since the mid-1980s, making him a legendary figure in the Winston-Salem music scene. A 1998 album with The Pinetops, Above Ground and Vertical, showed the individuality of Foster's vision, but it's the long-awaited release of Million Star Hotel, his first solo album, that finally gathers all facets of his musical vision in a uniformly spectacular fashion.
This is Foster's Born To Run. It's an album born of desperation, an emotional summation of past musical byways that supports messages of a need for search and escape, and a yearning for peace in an increasingly complex world. It is also Foster's equivalent of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, a sprawl of diverse songs, connected by one man's singular vision and given texture by the cast of accompanying musicians.
It's not a short album - it clocks in at 65 minutes - but it stops time, poignant in its cohesive grace and flow. It is also a work best digested whole - not that there is any shortage of magnificent solitary songs: "Summer of Son of Sam," "Break her Heart," "Lily of the Highway" are just three of many enchanting songs that cannot be ignored.
Good as the songs are - and they are very, very good - it is the multifaceted presentation that brings magic. Foster has finally found the way to frame his emotive, somewhat fragile voice, writing delicate songs capable of withstanding a pounding or sustaining atmospherics and sharp dynamics.
More than any album this year, Million Star Hotel offers a far-reaching expression of the greatness of rock 'n' roll. This is as close to perfection as rock 'n' roll should be allowed to come. It's the real deal.
- Ed Bumgardner
Relish / The Winston-Salem Journal
Raleigh News & Observer
Januray 20, 2006
"While Jeffrey Dean Foster's "Million Star Hotel" (Angel Skull Records) might look like any other compact disc, it's a capital-B Big Record. It has lots of songs (14, to be precise), lots of music (65-plus minutes) and lots of words (count 'em yourself) in service of a sprawling set of grand life-and-love-and-death themes that will leave you with lots to think about. The payoff is "The Summer of the Son of Sam," a sweeping six-minute epic that calls to mind Bruce Springsteen's "Jungleland" as it builds up to a perfect moment of resolution on the chorus with such purpose and conviction, it will just break your heart. It's wonderful, and so is the rest of "Million Star Hotel."
Pop Culture Press
| JEFFREY DEAN FOSTER
Million Dollar Hotel (ANGEL SKULL)
Jeffrey Dean Foster releases don't come around too often, but when they do, they're always worth your time. Since the early '80s, his work with the Right Profile, the Carneys and, more recently, the Pinetops, has put Foster among North Carolina's elite musicians. The five-years-in-the-making Million Star Hotel (slang for being homeless), put together with help from Mitch Easter and Brian Landrum among others, is his most ambitious effort yet. Foster says correctly that it sounds as if it could have been recorded "in the last or the next 35 years." Merging classic rock, roots music and pop experimentation with Foster's reliably brilliant songwriting, the album recalls the likes of Big Star, Wilco, Neil Young and even the Flaming Lips. "The Summer of Son of Sam," in which "the devil left his mark and the freebird hit the ground," is a wonderfully realized remembrance of youth, with Foster's sweet tenor positively perfect. The achingly beautiful "Milk & Honey," recorded at 4 a.m. with Mercury Dime's Cliff Retallick on piano and organ, is a stunner. While mostly low key, the album does rock out occasionally and effectively ("Little Priest," "I Know How Your Broken Heart Feels"). At 14 songs and more than 65 minutes of music, Million Star Hotel requires a bit of an investment, but reread the first sentence: worth your time. Foster does not disappoint. --Andy Turner
The Independent Weekly
Feb. 15th 2006
Million Star Hotel is what it sounds like when a talented singer/songwriter/musician lets his years of service (and frustration) form a blueprint for a record, and then takes careful time to construct it with long, confident strides--and without a misstep. When a songwriter compares a lost love to a "perfect three-minute song on the radio," as Jeffrey Dean Foster does in the sparkling "Don't Listen to Me," you know you're dealing with a musical lifer. The new album was some five years in the making, and it shows in its attention-to-sonic-detail guest list, which includes Mitch Easter, Don Dixon, Lynn Blakey and ex-Mercury Dime leader Cliff Retallick (whose keyboards show up right where you'd want them to throughout).
Lyrically, Foster waxes nostalgic ("The nights were long and the bands played 'til dawn"), sets imaginative scenes ("And the birds take flight through the amplifiers haze"), and goes defeatist ("I had a worn-out flag that I flew for you/ But it hit the ground, so we burned that too"), all with veteran aplomb. Musically, in iconic terms, he combines Big Star's "Holocaust"and Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" moodiness with the catchy-rock smarts of Tom Petty. There's a lush feeling typically not associated with roots rock. Sparklehorsey moments--most notably the distorto vocals of the raunched-up "Little Priest"--creep in, but it's worth noting that Foster has been dealing in found sounds and other atmospherics since Mark Linkous was little more than a Sparklepony.
One in a Million
By Ed Bumgardner, Relish, December, 2005
"It's a heady
and atmospheric album, equal parts earth and sky, prone to dramatic shifts in dynamics.
One minute it rocks, the next it is a calming balm for shattered souls. It's easy
to hear influences - from Lindsey Buckingham, Jeff Lynne and Bruce Springsteen to
Wings, Neil Young and The New York Dolls, with a slight nod to such contemporary
bands as Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips. Foster makes such overtures intentional.
"They sound good and are sort of mileposts for the listener," he said.
"They are familiar sounds along the way.
"It all sounds new enough for me. It doesn't sound like it belongs in a museum.
At the same time, it does sound ... different."
Movement, sky and darkness are recurring themes, all giving the album a sense of
search, escape and discovery."
[ Full Article ]
"I think early on I had the notion that I wanted to make some beautiful music," says Jeffrey Dean Foster of his just-completed album, "Million Star Hotel." "I wasn't aspiring to Aaron Copland or even (Brian Wilson's) ‘Smile' but songs that were just as beautiful as I could make with my humble tools and talents.
"I knew that it would be a rock 'n' roll record that was loud and fast at times," he says, "but in the back of my mind, the idea of beauty kept me on a path."
At 44, Foster is a veteran of the North Carolina music scene. Through the years he has led three bands — the Right Profile, the Carneys and the Pinetops — that played rootsy Americana-style music well before that term was coined. That's a roundabout way of saying Foster has been ahead of his time and never quite caught the break he deserves, though he has come close. He ruefully jokes about having tasted "near fame" on three or four occasions.
All of Foster's bands recorded, and the Pinetops released an album, "Above Ground and Vertical," in 1998. In 2000, he tested the waters as a solo artist with a live seven-song acoustic disc, "The Leaves Turn Upside Down." An intentionally low-fi recording, Foster says it was an oddball project, "barely a real record." Don Dixon, the noted North Carolina musical figure who produced the Pinetops, encouraged him to put it out.
"It will only enhance your reputation as a weirdo," Dixon argued.
However, "Million Star Hotel" marks the spot where Foster's solo career commences in earnest. It is his first full-length solo album and as such has the freshly minted air of a new beginning. It's a quietly ambitious song cycle that touches a broad range of emotions and feelings. Artfully engaging and emotionally candid, "Million Star Hotel" is an album to be absorbed and savored, not sampled and disposed like so much contemporary music.
The operative word is "feeling." Foster doesn't flinch from soul-baring emotionality. To the contrary, he does whatever it takes to identify and convey feelings in sounds and syllables. Certain of his songs, such as "When Will I Be a Man," are almost disarmingly revealing, while others can instill pangs of raw emotion — yearning, melancholy, wonder — in a listener.
Foster tries to put his finger on what his songwriting ultimately is about.
"I think there's a longing for something just out of reach, something you half-remember or the way you felt when you were some age or other," he says. "Certain songs sound like stories, and there are characters who move around and have things happen to them. But what these folks are doing is rarely the point to me. It's more about what the songs can do to you and how they make you feel.
"The kind of music that's always gotten under my skin has some spooky element or lump-in-your-throat kind of thing," he says. "Ray Davies (of the Kinks) did it better than anybody. There's nothing that makes me feel like parts of ‘Waterloo Sunset' do. It's such a sweet thing, so sad and full of joy, too. When I've been able to record even little sections of songs that make me feel like that, I'm proud."
We're talking in Foster's basement studio, a comfortable space strewn with old vinyl albums, vintage rock posters and incongruous touches such as a seat with a dryer hood salvaged from a beauty parlor.
Foster lives in a split-level home in a pleasant, middle-class neighborhood on the west side of Winston-Salem. Before moving there with his wife, Katherine, who works for a nonprofit group that aids community development groups, the couple lived in a rustic setting on the Yadkin River with a barn that served as a recording studio. "Million Star Hotel" came to life in the barn and traveled with Foster to the new house. During its gestation, the Fosters had a daughter, Ava, who turned 4 in August.
The album has been nearly five years in the making. During that long creative process, he sometimes would try to catch himself off-guard, recording a vocal, for instance, on the way out the door to work as an interior house painter, a craft he learned from his grandfather.
"I'd be ready to go in my paint clothes and come down here and sing a track, just to try to catch it before I was even thinking," he says with a chuckle.
Like a well-made wine, "Million Star Hotel'' is the product of painstaking work and the right amount of aging. Foster speaks about having had "the luxury of being able to tinker." He worked on instrumental parts until he got a take that felt right. He wasn't looking for perfection but a memorable one-time performance.
"It wasn't like some people who work on records for years trying to make sure everything is on the beat or in tune," he says. "My tinkering was trying to find something else, to keep playing a guitar part or solo until it had some spark that I liked, where I could say, ‘Man, I could never do that again.' That's what recording should be, but I don't think is much anymore."
A DVD of the late Ronnie Lane, performing with his band Slim Chance in 1974, runs in the background as we converse. Foster nods at the screen.
"I wish people still looked like that when they're onstage," he says of the musicians, who are casually attired and obviously enjoying themselves. There are no planetarium-style light shows or snappy dance routines to distract. It's simply a group of musicians playing their songs, and the absence of artifice appeals to Foster.
Though he's a musical omnivore who's conversant about everyone from Hank Williams to PJ Harvey, Foster's main influences tend toward quirky classic-rockers such as Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Keith Richards and Lindsey Buckingham. It's the music he grew up with, and he describes the songs on "Million Star Hotel" as "humble stabs at trying to conjure up some of the feelings that rock 'n' roll radio gave me as a headphoned late-night loner."
But Foster is being entirely too humble. "Million Star Hotel" is easily one of the best albums ever to come out of the fertile North Carolina music scene, and it deserves the kind of exposure that the work of home-state peers such as Ryan Adams, Ben Folds and Tift Merritt has enjoyed.
That's not just my opinion, either.
"Jeff is one of the most talented singer/songwriters I know of," says Tom Ivey, a longtime announcer at WQFS (90.9 FM), Guilford College's campus radio station. "He can rock out with the best of them as well as do quiet, heartbreaking ballads, and his imagery and storytelling are top-notch. Absolutely amazing lyrics. He should be a household name."
Mitch Easter, the estimable producer who mixed "Million Star Hotel" in his Kernersville studio and added guitar to several tracks in the later stages, says of Foster: "He's a genuine talent. He writes songs with real depth, and his arrangements are often stately and dramatic."
"I've always liked his appreciation for all kinds of rock music," Easter says. "His more purist Americana fans probably think he's joking when he expresses admiration for, say, Slade and the New York Dolls, but he correctly appreciates the wide range of excellence possible in pop music of all stripes. This has had positive effects on his own songwriting."
Indeed, you can hear snatches of glam-rock and progressive rock in opuses such as "Summer of the Son of Sam" and "Lily of the Highway." The entire album wells over with evocative songs that build to powerful climaxes or make unexpected turns. Foster is an ambitious and unpredictable songwriter. He just can't help it — not that he wants to.
"Sometimes I'll wish I could be more short and succinct, write these really perfect three-minute songs," he says. "Sometimes I'll even think, ‘Man, I finally did it; it's right to the point!' And it'll still turn out to be five minutes. I don't set out to do that, but I actually try not to edit. ‘Son of Sam,' for instance, didn't set out to become any big prog-rock thing, but every part seemed to go to the next part until it was over. They're all like that: Here's this part, then the next part and the next one, and then they're done. That's what comes naturally to me, but it does make for a challenging listening experience."
The only thing that "Million Star Hotel" lacks is a label to put it out. That will be the last piece to fall into place in this five-year puzzle. Foster has begun shopping the album and has already had a few nibbles, including one from New West, a premier Americana label. Whoever winds up signing Foster will have an instant classic on its hands.
Meanwhile, Foster is contemplating his next album, which he reckons will come pretty quickly. "I'm anxious to make another record fast," he says. "For me, the fun part is writing something new and hearing something happen that I didn't know was going to happen."
Reflections: Songwriter is driven to produce and perform
By Parke Puterbaugh,
Winston-Salem Journal, February 14, 2003
"Jeffrey Dean Foster hunkered over the soundboard in his studio, cueing up a new song with the intriguing title "Summer of
Son of Sam." It is an adventurous piece of music that evolves and builds like a suite.
Foster, a lifelong Winston-Salem resident who sings and plays guitar, identified each part by referencing other bands. A distinctive and slightly menacing ascending guitar figure is the "devil part," because it sounds like something Black Sabbath might have done. The ending is "definitely Fleetwood Mac-ish," he said, because Foster plays a one-note guitar part in the style of Lindsey Buckingham. And so forth.
"We’re such classic-rock freaks," Foster said of his band. "We speak in this code like, ‘Go to the Christine McVie part.’ It’s like a shorthand."
Foster has gathered a revamped group of musicians around him after his last band, the Pinetops, "just kind of quietly ended." These days he is joined by Andy Mabe (the only Pinetops holdover), pianist Cliff Retallick, and drummer Brian Landrum. Each of them also keeps busy with other projects. Mabe performs solo and with Clare Fader, Retallick fronts Mercury Dime, and Landrum is the leader of Black Eyed Dog.
The arrangement is casual but committed, allowing Foster the latitude to perform solo or with a duo, trio or full band. "I’m very flattered that they keep things open to work with me and drive here to play and record," he said. "The lineup seems durable because the personalities are right."
Moreover, they all speak the same musical language. When they were working up "Lost in My Own Town," another terrific original, Foster could communicate with them in classic-rock code. "Go to the Al Stewart part; now, John Cale; OK, Blue Oyster Cult," Foster said.
"I like talking about influences," Foster said. "Some people act like you shouldn’t reference things because that’s not finding what it’s really about, but that’s the way we talk within the band. We all have certain things in common, but Cliff and I especially share a lot of the same likes — Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Lou Reed."
Foster’s accumulated influences have been spilling out in the songs that he has written in the past year and arranged with the band’s input. "All the new stuff seems less classifiable and more reflective of what we grew up listening to," he said. "The other guys are all songwriters themselves and therefore are great at arranging a song from the ground floor."
Foster is one of North Carolina’s finest songwriters, possessing a talent on par with such celebrated homeboys as Ryan Adams and Ben Folds. Foster is idiosyncratic yet accessible, a product of a classic-rock upbringing (peak years, in his estimation: 1972-78) who exhibits a quietly stubborn, do-it-yourself streak.
Some of Foster’s songs are streaked with sadness and yearning, a kind of melancholic wonder about roads abandoned or not taken. Sung by Foster in an upper range akin to Neil Young’s near-falsetto circa After the Gold Rush, such songs as "Lost in My Own Town" (with such well-turned lines as "You’re on the road/I’m in the street") and the emotionally unsparing "When Will I Be a Man" are absolutely poignant and unabashedly vulnerable. The beautiful, bittersweet "Lily of the Highway" has a kind of cinematic quality. As it plays, you can envision a girl growing up, rolling down the road and finally disappearing around a curve toward an uncertain future."
"The Leaves Turn Upside Down"
By William Michael Smith,
Rockzilla.net, March 2002
Foster has done some very interesting, un-unplugged things with the leaves turn upside down. Mostly recorded live at that venerable Winston-Salem institution, The Garage, Foster has taken the recording in seemingly contrary directions but has ended up with a disc that is quite unified and more than a bit conceptually daring.
One sonic direction Foster has taken through his production vision gives what is on the surface an extremely minimalist instrumental and vocal presentation a Technicolor aura. Foster has interposed found sounds (one seems to be bacon sizzling in a skillet), odd clips from radio evangelists, and brief, moody studio instrumental segues that give the disc an Andy-Warhol-goes-techno/acoustic-in-the-predawn-hours feel that is quite ingenious. According to Foster, he wanted the EP to seem like a haphazard spin across the late-night radio dial.
But Jeffrey Dean Foster is sneaking up on us here. The unusual production aesthetic and mix actually work to demonstrate Foster's considerable talent as he eventually supercedes the crowd interference, overcoming the static in the channels with the force of his performance and his brilliant lyrics. Foster reprises several of his Pinetops tracks ("Lottery," "Jesus Spoke," and the incandescent "So Lonesome I Could Fly"), but it is his new material that shows the songwriting power that is Mr. Foster's ace in the hole.
"The Leaves Turn Upside Down"
By Rick Cornell,
Independent Weekly January 30, 2002
"When Jeffrey Dean Foster and his band The Pinetops released Above Ground and Vertical in 1998, folks had been waiting a long time for an album from the Winston-Salem-area artist. I was a member of that impatient group, but having first encountered Foster when he opened a '94 Cat's Cradle show for Jimmie Dale Gilmore, my wait time was comparatively brief. Plenty of other fans had been looking forward to an album since the late '80s, when Foster's band, The Right Profile, had a record deal head south at the last minute. All of that background is just to explain why you're not going to find me bellyaching about a stopgap live EP, even one that revisits three tunes from Above Ground. Nope, I'll take anything anytime from Foster, a roots-rock troubadour with psych-rock sympathies--a guy with Steve Forbert, Tom Petty, Marc Bolan and Ian Hunter all peacefully coexisting in his head and heart. Plus, the three Above Ground tracks--"Lottery," "Jesus Spoke" and "So Lonesome I Could Fly" (covered by Marti Jones on her new album)--are presented here in solo acoustic mode, recorded at Winston-Salem's homey, funky Garage.
These three performances show that Foster's compositions, alternately graceful and galloping, are the kind that can stand up to being stripped-down. It works both ways: When you listen to "Skin and Bone," one of four new songs on the EP, you just may find yourself mentally adding some loud and fuzzy guitars to the mix. Not that it needs it, but just 'cause it's fun. And the broadcast clips and other incidental sounds that link the songs show that Foster has been enjoying his Sparklehorse records.
No Depression review
By Fred Mills,
No Depression, January - February 2002
"A talented North Carolina songwriter and a twang-pop vet from the ‘80s (with The Right Profile) and early ‘90s (Carneys), Jeffrey Dean Foster made a splash in 1998 with the Pinetops and their disc Above Ground and Vertical. This acoustic live EP is a solo stop-gap between studio records; as such the low-fi, clinking-beer-bottle ambiance conveys pleasures of the fleetingly intimate, rather than the ornately crafted, sense.
The charm of new compositions (the strummy, jangly "Lover True", which neatly plays with the phrasings of "lover" and "love her") and Pinetops material (the beautiful spectral drone of the aptly titled "So Lonesome I Could Fly") gets cemented by Foster’s keening upper register, a satisfying cross between Roger McGuinn and Alex Chilton. There’s left-field artistry afoot as well: Looped in short-wave and electronic sounds and brief keyboard segments serves as segues, lending the set a spooky but appropriate autumnal vibe."
Jeffrey Dean Foster: The Leaves Turn Upside Down
By Margot Carmichael Lester,
Swizzle-Stick.com, November 2001
"Most live albums feature hordes of screaming fans singing along to their favorite songs while the band takes a self-indulgent breather. Not so on Jeffrey Dean Fosters’ limited edition seven-song EP, The Leaves Turn Upside Down. .... Throughout the lyrics and music are vintage Foster – thoughtful, heartfelt and rootsy. Each song is linked by spoken word, ambient samples and other sounds, evoking, as Foster says, “a foreign short-wave broadcast.” Overall, the record has a terrific texture that’s DIY and smooth at the same time. Certainly a great harbinger of the full-length record due out later this year" .... Full Review
Pinetops leader to play at SECCA
By Ed Bumgardner,
Winston-Salem Journal, Aug. 23, 2001
"[The Leaves Turn Upside Down] is a fascinating concept and one that, in Foster's hands, works like a charm. To realize his desire to make the album sound like "a picked-up radio transmission," he uses studio-generated ambient tracks and sampled snippets of found dialogue to bridge the songs. The sudden shift in tonality serves to emphasize the near-starkness of each performance and adds to the feeling of vulnerability that makes the disc special. It's unlike anything he has attempted before, and it manages to showcase the inherent intimacy of his work in ways that his more produced efforts of the past, though worthy, have not quite captured.
It's a work that is at once primitive as a field recording; punk-like in attitude, and wholly futuristic. As a body of songs, it cuts through genre classification - in Foster's case, the limiting Americana tag that has dogged his work for years - to stand as a monument to a determined singer and his quietly revealing work."
Album in progress shows creativity of Jeffrey Dean Foster at fever pitch
By Ed Bumgardner,
Winston-Salem Journal, March 9, 2001
"The music, like that of Wilco, certainly vaults the barrier of Americana. It strives to create a distinct mood, hypnotic and seductive, through songs that build to subtle crescendos and extended codas.
There are still rockers in the mix; "Little Priest" is as fine an homage to Johnny Thunders' style of stuperous glam-garage punk as has been recorded.
But the vast majority of the songs are far more mysterious, using layers of instruments to create a beautiful, luxurious soundscape, a murky pool of color and texture that is immediately fascinating enough to pull the listener in and never let go.
It's a giant creative leap forward for Foster, a creative culmination that seems pointed toward a pinnacle of dizzying creativity. That it can't be neatly categorized makes it all the more attractive and exciting."
For fans of The Silos, GBV, Buddy Miller, and Sunday drives
(Amazon.com online fan review), March 2, 2001
"Roll down your car windows, pull off the interstate and into the real world that runs parallel on those state roads, through those little towns, that are real, with real lives, and beauty, and pain and where the sun doth shine.
Jeff Foster has captured it [on the CD Above Ground and Vertical ] as Mr. Frazier captured it in Cold Mountain. so go ahead and sell that car of yours with the automatic transmission and the automatic window roller downers and get yourself a stick shift. roll your own windows down, take the rural route, but mostly just listen, and just maybe you too will see and hear what's out there --- its beautiful and it will make you want to share it with your best friends."
The Pinetops with fine reviews and a new drummer are bringing their roots-rich, rockin' sound to SECCA
\ By Ed Bumgardner,
Winston-Salem Journal, August 20, 1999
" Good things have been happening for The Pinetops since the release last year of the band's fine debut album, Above Ground And Vertical.
The roots-rich album, written by band leader Jeffrey Dean Foster of Winston-Salem and produced by Don Dixon, has found favor among national critics. The album's deliberate pacing, the high quality of Foster's songwriting, and the bewitching nature of its arrangements combine to create an enchanting and enriching listening experience that fully reveals its intricacy only upon repeated listenings.
It's an album that's a journey, and one well-worth taking.
The band's appearance at the annual South-By-Southwest music showcase in Austin, Texas, earlier this year drew notice from national critics who were impressed by the band's ability to seamlessly move from moments of moody dynamic intimacy to a full rockin' roar."
22 Questions With Jeff Foster
by Sam Smith,
The Lullaby Pit, February 9, 2000
"Jeff Foster's first band, The Right Profile, remains one of the three best bands I ever saw that never "made it." They managed a remarkable balance of verve and melancholy, moving easily between house-shakers like "Shacktown Road" and hauntingly beautiful ballads like "Underneath the Window." Click here for the full interview.
More Pinetops Press is available on the Monolyth Pinetops Web site. Click here.