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Jeffrey Dean Foster


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JEFFREY DEAN FOSTER/The Arrow, by parke puterbaugh.

Every picture tells a story, don’t it? Take the striking image on the back of Jeffrey Dean Foster’s new album, The Arrow. Foster is seated in a folding chair, lost in reverie while strumming a chord on a very cool-looking guitar. Though engulfed in darkness and mystery, he appears intent on transcending his sepulchral surroundings through the illuminating glow of a song. Adding to this beguiling image is the evocation of ringwear on the front and back covers, serving as a touchstone to a bygone era while illustrating the passage of time.

Like an old album cover, we accumulate our share of rust and wrinkles as we pass through this temporal world. As Foster states in the songs that start and finish this album, “Life is sweet/But it doesn’t last.” Those lines set the tone for an album that is, by turns, wistful and forceful, introspective and outgoing. As if recognizing the need for community, this is the most band-oriented album Foster has made as a solo artist. It includes numerous cuts in which he and his fellow musicians – including such familiar names as bassist Don Dixon and guitarist/producer Mitch Easter – are playing live on the floor of Easter’s Fidelitorium studio.

The Arrow pays homage to the time-tested virtues of well-constructed songs built on a creative foundation of emotional honesty and musical eclecticism. “Usually the songs I write have some kind of spooky remembrance element in them,” Foster elaborates. “Something you can’t quite put your finger on. All the records I loved when I was young, whether it’s the Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’ or the Byrds’ ‘Chestnut Mare,’ had some element that gave you shivers and took you somewhere else.”

The album reflects a prismatic variety of alluring moods and colors, unspooling as a deep, episodic musical trip. They range from the explosive, Faces-like rush of “Life Is Sweet” to the mysterious mix of beauty and danger in “Morningside.” There’s rustic, Steve Forbert-style folk minstrelsy in “The Arrow” and a shimmering Byrds-meets-Fleetwood Mac glow to the utterly gorgeous “The Sun Will Shine Again.” “Young Tigers Disappear” erupts in a ferocious squall of guitars animating a poetic yet potent antiwar lyric. “Jigsaw Man” marries a soul-baring lyric to atmospheric dream-pop music that would do Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers proud.

“When I think about what kind of record this is,” Foster muses, “it almost seems like a random spin of an FM radio dial from a certain time in the past in the way it embraces a lot of styles without being too disparate or mixed up. So it’s skating over at least my musical history, though I wasn’t consciously thinking about it.”

Another hallmark of the album is its feeling of immediacy. Unlike its predecessor, the uniquely contemplative and solipsistic classic Million Star Hotel (released in 2006), The Arrow is “more of a social record,” as guitarist and collaborator John Pfiffner noted, at least in terms of the way it was recorded.

“Million Star Hotel had more of a lonerish, isolated feeling,” Foster acknowledges, “whereas most of these songs are more like capturing people playing together. I wanted people around who did things I couldn’t or wouldn’t do and would surprise me and push me to do something different.”

The album blasted into being with an inspired and productive weeklong session during which a dozen songs were recorded at Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium, in Kernersville, N.C. Foster worked with a core band that included John Pfiffner on guitar, Don Dixon on bass and Brian Landrum on drums, with Easter engineering and later overdubbing guitar parts. Having on hand the tandem of Easter and Dixon – who were essentially responsible for creating the indie-rock sound with their coproduction of R.E.M. and their individual work with countless other bands in the 1980s – was invaluable to the session’s success.

“Having Mitch and Don in the studio is a kind of classic Southern way of making a record,” says Foster. “I loved having them both there because it’s such a compliment. Both of them are great musicians and friends and supporters of my music. That week just made for a lovely start to the record.”

Additional work was subsequently done at the Fidelitorium and at Foster’s and Pfiffner’s home studios. Vocal harmonies and counterparts were provided by Lynn Blakey and Tonya Lamm (two of Tres Chicas). Blakey’s husband, Ecki Heins, overdubbed one-man string sections on several songs. Several other musicians from Foster’s charmed circle of North Carolina-based talent contributed parts as well. In a further departure that is emblematic of The Arrow’s more inclusive community spirit, Foster cowrote several songs with fellow musicians and family members – including two that share credit with his daughter, Ava Louise. “I got her signed up as a real BMI writer,” he says proudly. “I love the fact that she’s on there.”

The Arrow is the latest chapter in Jeffrey Dean Foster’s exceptional career in music, which dates back to the mid-1980s. Long before the Americana movement caught fire – before the genre even had a name, in fact – Foster was synthesizing folk, rock and roots music with such bands as the Right Profile, the Carneys and the Pinetops. Signed to Arista Records, the Right Profile were poised for success as a proto-Americana group; why it didn’t happen is one of those classic music-biz tales about which someone could write a book. (Incidentally, the Right Profile’s keyboardist, Stephen Dubner, has gone on to fame and fortune as coauthor of the best-selling Freakonomics series, while drummer Jon Wurster graduated to Superchunk and other favorite indie-rockers.)

Undaunted by the Right Profile’s disappointing near-brush with fame, Foster continued to break new ground with the Carneys and Pinetops, though both groups were likewise ahead of their time in terms of the broader public’s readiness for the Americana sound. With those bands and as a solo artist, Foster has recorded with such noted producers as Steve Jordan, Jim Dickinson, Pete Anderson, Mitch Easter and Don Dixon. The Arrow joins his prior solo efforts, The Leaves Turn Upside Down and Million Star Hotel, in a growing catalog of superior work. Jeffrey Dean Foster’s arrows continue to find their target because his aim is true.

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Anybody who’s followed Jeff Foster’s career to date – particularly if they were fortunate enough to hear him back in the ‘80s during his tenure with the Right Profile – is in for a shock when they hear this album. I don’t mean in the “artist-takes-stylistic-detour” kind of shock; he still specializes in power pop-tinged Americana, with obvious reference points being Springsteen, Petty and McGuinn. But this is the kind of record that can literally stop you in your tracks it’s so good. Nothing, I mean NOTHING, he’s done before comes close to the songcraft and musicianship on display here – I keep listening to it trying to find flaws or loose threads only to detect none, even after, I dunno, 30 listens. One song in particular just slays me: “The Sun Will Shine Again,” so aglow with musical grace and lyrical optimism that it never fails to chase the proverbial clouds away for me no matter what kind of shitty day I may have been having. The record’s a keeper and I guarantee it will be on my best-of 2014 list come December.
– Fred Mills, Blurt Magazine, October 2014

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. Winston-Salem's Foster is one of North Carolina's most famous should-have-been-huge stories, thanks to his band The Right Profile's near-miss with the big time in the late '80s. Over the post-Right Profile decade and A half that followed, Foster has released only three records: 1998's Above Ground and Vertical with his then-band The Pinetops, the 2001 stopgap EP The Leaves Turn Upside Down, and now Million Star Hotel. 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. 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.
- Rick Cornell, Indy Week


This is as close to perfection as rock 'n' roll should be allowed to come.
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 Now

"every second of this remarkable album cries out to be listened to."
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 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 channelling Danny Whitton. “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.
- Nick West, Bucketfull of Brains


"Million Star Hotel is absolutely not to be overlooked."
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.
- Fred Mills, Harp Magazine

"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. Stunningly beautiful...undeniably great."
- Luke Torn, Pop Culture Press

Authenticity. How many times have we seen that word thrown around lately?? From politics to pop culture, it seems as though it has been drained of its meaning. Like A pair of rugged jeans, what once connoted individuality and cool has been transformed into A marketing concept to sell nostalgiA to the masses. For the discerning audiophile, finding an artist that speaks to their peculiar mood is difficult, especially when everybody is trying to sound like everything else. Mediocrity 2.0.

I have three words for you: Jeffrey Dean Foster. Homegrown and 100 percent original, the Winston-Salem artist is everything modern Top 40 music is not. Equal parts poet, songwriter and entertainer, this member of the Pinetops has managed to pack more material into over twenty years of recording music than many more well-known acts have in ten. He is also an artist who isn't afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. The result, Million Star Hotel, is A solo album as raw as it is beautiful.

From the outset of the alt-rock track "Lily of the Highway", it is clear that the listener is entering virgin territory. A ballad dedicated to the pains of growing up, the song brings to mind Springsteen and Steve Earle at their moody best. It recalls the agony of adulthood while lingering in the past without falling victim to sepia-tone nostalgia. Not to be outdone, Foster follows it up with songs like "All I Do Is Dream", A song about A yearning as vague as the subject matter itself. Throughout the album Foster is A chameleon, altering between poetic angst and forlorn regret reminiscent of 1970s Neil Young or the alterna-rock of recent decades.

If you like your music chill with A side of deep, at $15, Million Star Hotel is worth the price.
- NC Magazine 33