Ruthie Foster: Singing The Blues

James Nadal By

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Since releasing her first solo record less than a decade ago, Ruthie Foster has steadily gained momentum and respect within the music industry as a double threat singer/guitarist. With eight more albums in her discography, including the critically acclaimed The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster (Blue Corn Music, 2007), she has risen to prominence in the Blues community, winning the 2015 Koko Taylor Award, but she is much more than a blues singer. She has taken the gospel, blues, and soul from her homegrown Texas roots, and combined them with the undeniable influence of Mavis Staples, ensuing in a singular and expressive vocal style which is uniquely Ruthie Foster. Both Let It Burn (Blue Corn Music, 2012) and Promise Of A Brand New Day (Blue Corn Music, 2014) were nominated for Grammies in the Traditional Blues category, and so are deserving of a closer look.

Let It BurnRuthie Foster
Let It Burn
Blue Corn Music

Although she is recognized by both audience and peers as a highly accomplished guitarist, on her 2012 release Let It Burn, she put down her guitar and opted for concentrating on vocals, at least for recording purposes. She delved deep into her gospel lineage and was joined by The Blind Boys of Alabama on four tracks, notably "Lord Remember Me," where she transports everyone to church. Acknowledged as a brilliant interpreter of any song she chooses, Foster can easily navigate from soul to rock, and shines on anything that resembles Americana, as The Band's "It Makes No Difference," the June Carter favorite "Ring Of Fire," and Pete Seeger's "If I Had A Hammer." All of these jewels she brought way down in tempo and turned them into emotional poignant ballads and hymns.

Recorded at Piety Studios in New Orleans, Let It Burn boasts exemplary accompanists as bassist George Porter Jr., Ike Stubblefield on heavenly organ, and Big Easy legend James Rivers on tenor sax. The spirit and ambience of New Orleans will constantly ooze into whatever is recorded there, and this was no exception. Foster ventured into the Crescent City with well thought out intentions, and came out with a remarkable record showcasing her total mastery of that exceptional idiom where secular plus sacred equals soul.

Promise Of A Brand New DayRuthie Foster
Promise Of A Brand New Day
Blue Corn Music

On a career that had seen her weave in and out of blues delineations, Ruthie Foster hunkered down on Promise Of A Brand New Day and released a portrayal of an artist willing and able to establish her own rules. This record shows she is more than adept at covering the spectrum of any songbook, and is not afraid to take chances. Prepared with seven original tunes, and prudently chosen covers, Foster went into the studio with bassist extraordinaire Meshell Ndegeocello handling the production duties, and the result is an evenly balanced modern portrait of a multi-faceted artist.

"Singing The Blues," is an infectious number that reflects that the blues has come a long way both rhythmically and melodically, with Foster's vocal setting the tone for what lies ahead. "Let Me Know," is a hard electric shuffler, leading into "My Kinda Lover," a perfect study of vintage rhythm and blues. "Outlaw," would be perfect for those barroom gigs back in Foster's hometown of Austin, Texas, complete with the compulsory swagger and bravado. Then it's back to the soulful groove in "It Might Not Be Right" highlighted by Ndegeocello's solid bass work.

Adhering to the concept of winding down on the album, "Believe," has that sanctified Staples Singers feel that conjures up repentance and redemption. "Brand New Day," done acappella, with only a single tambourine marking time, leaves no doubt that Foster cannot venture far from her gospel background. She turns on her soft acoustic side on "Complicated Love," and on the closing track "New." There is a flawless synchronization of the song selection and placement throughout that makes this a pleasant listening experience, letting one down easy.

These two records are a compilation of songs depicting the far reaching vocalist that is Ruthie Foster. Though her magnificent guitar abilities in her live performances, as well as videos, are well documented and respected, her decision to go with only her voice on these two productions displays a confidence that is obvious in the concluding analysis. She not only has the credentials to venture into the rarefied air of authentic soul singers, but has proved that she is quite at home singing the blues.

Tracks and Personnel

Let It Burn

Tracks: Welcome Home; Set Fire to The Rain; This Time; You Don't Miss Your Water; Everlasting Light; Lord Remember Me; Ring Of Fire; Aim For the Heart; It Makes No Difference; Long Time Gone; Don't Want to Know; If I Had A Hammer; The Titanic.

Personnel: Ruthie Foster: vocals; George Porter Jr.: bass; Ike Stubblefield: Hammond B3 organ, piano; Russell Batiste: drums; Dave Easley: pedal steel guitar; James Rivers: tenor sax.

Promise Of A Brand New Day

Tracks: Singing The Blues; Let Me Know; My Kinda Lover; The Ghetto; Outlaw; Second Coming; It Might Not Be Right; Learning To Fly; Believe; Brand New Day; Complicated Love; New.

Personnel: Ruthie Foster: vocals; Meshell Ndegeocello: bass; Chris Bruce: guitar; Ivan Edwards: drums; Jebin Bruni: keyboards; Nayanna Holley: background vocals.
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