Kenny Foster — Somewhere In Middle America
An old friend of mine was fond of the term “home truths,” a phrase which evokes a basic brand of wisdom, but can also represent an uncomfortable fact. Missouri native Kenny Foster takes a look at both of these sorts of home truths on his new album, Somewhere in Middle America, which examines both the benefits and drawbacks of small-town life, as well as the hopes and fears inherent in leaving that seemingly safe cocoon.
Foster’s been on the scene for a while, releasing his first album, For Now, in 2008, and working alongside any number of Nashville’s brightest stars (including Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves), and his time in Music City and traveling across the country gives him a strong voice in the “stay home vs. try somewhere new” dichotomy. It’s his relationship with his hometown of Joplin that informs Somewhere in Middle America, which is full of the kind of images you’d expect from the “flyover states,” but with a wistfulness that improves upon simple nostalgia. The title (and leadoff) track fades in with typical small-town quarrels – “There’s an umpire callin’ strikes on a dude ‘cause he don’t like his dad” – but also reflects a wish for something a bit more grand, if only in imagination – “There’s a video store with a tanning bed that makes for good vacation.” The rock-ish, slide guitar-steeped “Driveway” shows the starting point – “Twenty-two feet of good time real estate” – and, often, the ending point of many of those modest dreams – “It was the finish line after our first date,” while also owning up to the limitations of never straying far from home.
Foster starts to look at alternate paths in “Dreams Change,” a steel- and synth-laced reverie where the innocent fantasies of childhood – “I was gonna marry my babysitter, though I was only half her age” – to Big Boy aspirations – “I was gonna have a private jet, box seats at the New York Met.” But, even with a head in the clouds, the feet remain on home ground – “Yeah, it hurts when they don’t work out, but then again I wouldn’t be here now.” It’s really in the album’s standout song “Copy Paste Repeat” where Foster reveals the downside of inaction. The pensive acoustic- and steel-based tune (with lovely harmonies from co-writer Daisy Mallory) considers how easy it is to do nothing – “Generations of everyone/Just doing what they’ve always been told has been the right thing. But that inertia can be suffocating, right on down the line – “Buy a place big enough for babies/Then raise ‘em up to ignore the stuff that hurts.” It’s the kind of perspective that really doesn’t become clear until one is able to push past the invisible fencing – “That welcome sign stands like a guard on the county line” – of one’s hometown. The fact that Foster did so, even as he frequently questioned that decision, gives him agency to sing some home truths, even (and especially) the uncomfortable ones.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “The Same” – a song with some good dramatic build which also has maybe the best Dad advice since Jason Isbell’s “Outfit” – “Go on ‘n’ change the world, but call your mom.”
Somewhere in Middle America was produced and mixed by Mitch Dane, engineered by Koehn Terry and mastered by Vance Powell. All songs written by Kenny Foster, with co-writes going to Stephen Wilson Jr., Chris Rafetto, Brendan Cooney, Daisy Mallory, Andrew Osenga, Kristi Manna, Mando Saenz, Keesy Timmer and Marcus Hummon. Additional musicians on the album include Osenga (electric guitars), Dane (strings, percussion, synth, bells), Kevin Whitsett (bass), Paul Eckberg (drums), Charlie Lowell (piano, B3 organ), Justin Schipper (steel and lap steel guitars, banjo), Josh Matheny (Dobro), Sierra Hull (mandolin) and Wilson, Osenga, Lowell, Daisy Mallory and Liz Longley (vocal harmonies).
Stream Somewhere in Middle America on October 21
Order copies of Somewhere in Middle America and check out tour dates on Kenny Foster’s website: https://kennyfostermusic.com