It’s only appropriate that Jeffrey Foskett’s new release on the BMG label is entitled Voices. For it’s the beauty of the human voice that’s the key ingredient here – specifically the artist’s rich, supple, and multi-faceted vocal instrument which has lent support over the past four decades to The Beach Boys in their various incarnations. While Foskett has recorded numerous solo albums for the Japanese market, his own works are somewhat less known here in the United States. Happily, Voices rectifies that as a big ray of sunshine perfect to beat the incoming winter blues. However, the release comes with a bittersweet caveat. Yesterday, Foskett courageously revealed to Billboard that, in early 2018, he was diagnosed with Anaplastic thyroid cancer. Surgeries and treatments have led to the loss of a vocal cord, and as Billboard puts it, “essentially, the versatile voice with the soaring upper register that helped add authenticity to any harmonic situation he encountered.” But Foskett’s positive spirit leads Voices, perhaps the last album he’ll record as a singer, to retain a celebratory feel in the face of his heartbreaking health struggle.
At the heart of Voices are three a cappella tracks that showcase Foskett at his most pure, singing all of the lead and harmony vocals. “Everything That Touches You,” dating back to 2009, is a ravishing version of Terry Kirkman’s beautiful song made famous by The Association. Foskett wears his admiration for the original group’s voices on his sleeve while still making the song, and sound, his own. He delivers a dreamy fantasia on the buoyant melody of Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody’s “Laughter in the Rain” in a 1998 rendition, joined by the late Valerie Carter. Foskett also performs a brief, tantalizing snippet of The Mamas and The Papas’ “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon).”
Throughout Voices, Foskett pays tribute to the great songwriters of pop music’s halcyon days. His elegiac take on Jimmy Webb’s “Adios” (the original version of which featured Linda Ronstadt supported by Brian Wilson’s luscious harmonies) is stark and stirring, sans harmonies and with the spotlight firmly focused on Foskett’s plaintive lead. Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” is a top-notch band performance from Foskett on acoustic guitar; Kenny Vaughn on electric; Jim Hoke on steel guitar, organ, and harmonica; Chris Price on piano; Keith Hubacher on bass; and Joey Finger on drums. This pair of songs would have been the most affecting selections on Voices even before news broke of Foskett’s cancer diagnosis; today, they take on even deeper meaning.
The band (minus Vaughn and plus Austin Hoke and Kristin Webe on cellos and violins, respectively) gives another impressive performance on a reworking of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “I Say a Little Prayer.” Boasting a vocal arrangement by none other than Brian Wilson, a haunting, SMiLE-esque piano part, and woodwinds and strings, this recording of the oft-covered song doesn’t skimp on the song’s uplift but gives equal footing to the inherent shadows in the Vietnam-era composition. By turning the lyric on its side (“You say a little prayer for me,” Foskett sings), it’s not hard to imagine a soldier in a far-away land pining for his love. Surely Hal David, who cited the war as an inspiration for his famous words, would have been proud. (Side note: As Brian Wilson began but never finished Beach Boys recordings of Bacharach and David’s “Walk on By” and “My Little Red Book,” this is a close approximation of what a Brian-ized version of “I Say a Little Prayer” might have sounded like!)
Foskett and his frequent creative partner, producer-musician Jeff Larson, bring a fresh sensibility to their tight harmonies on Norman Petty and Bob Montgomery’s “Heartbeat,” a 1958 chart entry for Buddy Holly; Foskett is at his most gentle on another Holly tune from 1958 (but not released until 1960), the ballad “True Love Ways.” Larson sings and plays on “Feeling Just the Way I Do,” a feel-good track penned by Henry Kapono of Hawaiian duo Cecilio and Kapono which has been reprised from Foskett and Larson’s 2018 collaborative album Elua Aloha.
But no Jeffrey Foskett collection would be complete with songs associated with his longtime friends The Beach Boys. Three such tracks can be found here. Mike Love appears alongside Foskett and recent and current members of the Beach Boys band including Scott Totten, Brian Eichenberger, Tim Bonhomme, Randy Leago, and John Cowsill on vibrant studio recreations of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Good Vibrations,” the latter of which also features Bruce Johnston. Both of these have been produced by Michael Lloyd, producer of Mike’s Unleash the Love and, in part, Reason for the Season. Foskett is joined by Jeff Larson and Jim Hoke on a lush, tender, and altogether moving treatment of another Wilson/Love staple, “The Warmth of the Sun.”
The accompanying booklet for Voices features testimonials from a number of musicians who know a thing or two about vocals and harmony, among them Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Jimmy Webb, Robert Lamm, Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell, and Christopher Cross. Billboard revealed that the most recent selections on Voices weren’t even intended as an album, but rather were recorded by Jeff Larson as vocal warm-ups before Foskett cut his background vocals for recent Royal Philharmonic Orchestra projects dedicated to the songs of Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison. How lucky we are that these performances were captured for posterity and released on this inspiring collection. Foskett indicates that he considers future performing to be “a good question.” This year, he appeared onstage for six performances with The Beach Boys as well as guest appearances on the It Was 50 Years Ago today tour celebrating The Beatles’ White Album. Generously sharing the warmth of the sun through good days and bad, Jeffrey Foskett hasn’t stopped inspiring.