Because Nashville is quick to embrace performers who favor clever wordplay, catchy melodies and tight harmonies, Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd enjoyed considerable success as an Everly Brothers-inspired duo in the late '80s. Yet since the pair broke up in 1992, Foster has recorded three solo albums that demonstrate his gift for composing more substantial and emotionally complex songs.

His latest release, "See What You Want to See" (Arista Austin), is his best yet, an album full of enough heartache to keep a honky-tonk jukebox running all night. Only this isn't really a country album--at least not the kind that Nashville routinely cranks out these days. While Foster's affection for country music is still apparent on several tracks, as a solo artist he continues to find inspiration in other areas as well, using elements of rock, pop and even funk music to give his songs a sharper melodic edge or a different rhythmic thrust.

Opening with "I've Got a Picture," a ballad that wouldn't sound out of place on a Jackson Browne album, Foster deftly explores love and loss from shifting perspectives. "I've got a picture and you got a photograph," he sings in a battle-weary voice. "We both see what we want to see/ I got a picture of you trying to push me out/ Looks to you like I'm trying to leave." A few tracks later on "The Kiss," Foster conveys with solemn concision the anguish that arises from a lover's betrayal: "Judas couldn't hide it any better than this/ Secret's out, darling/ Betrayed by a kiss." While he celebrates the redemptive power of love on other songs, notably "Angry Heart" and "You Were So Right," it's the tormented refrains that pack the strongest punch.

Foster has recruited several talented artists to flesh out the arrangements, including Emmylou Harris, Hootie & the Blowfish's Darius Rucker and Texas thrush Abra Moore. The album's best songs don't require vocal enhancements, though, since Foster's interpretations sound utterly honest and persuasive. If he hasn't lived these songs, experienced these emotional highs and lows, then he's putting on a hell of an act. Foster performs Friday at the Birchmere.

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8161.)

Bill Lloyd: 'Standing on the Shoulders of Giants'

Bill Lloyd's latest solo effort, "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" (Koch), seems rather slight by comparison. Part of the problem has to do with his boyish tenor. Even when Lloyd is singing of a love affair that produced great pain, he sounds detached from the subject, like a crooner who can only scratch the surface of a song. As a result, he's better off here delivering songs that are either inherently upbeat, such as the title track, or that radiate a nostalgic glow, such as the pop remembrance "Cool and Gone." Songs that require a singer to tap into deeper emotions are simply beyond Lloyd's reach.

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8162.)

CAPTION: Radney Foster: Enough heartache to keep a honky-tonk jukebox running all night.

CAPTION: Bill Lloyd, up where the air is thin on "Shoulders of Giants."