Jeffrey Dean Foster

Million Star Hotel

(Angel Skull Records)

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.