Written by Michael Pittman
Feb 23, 2012 at 08:00 PM
ImageI remember asking for an interview over the phone once about 10 years ago. She was somewhere on a mid winter Ohio highway, but even down that long telephone line I could feel the warmth and soul of a woman totally bound to her music and the people. She calls the key of C the “People’s Key” because it’s the easiest to sing along with.

Ruthie Foster has traveled a lotta miles since then, but I still see the same spark and warmth in her eye today as I did way back then. Even with a Grammy nomination for 2009s’ The Truth According To Ruthie Foster, nominations to this years’ B.B. King entertainer of the year, wins for 2011s’ Blues Music Award in the Traditional Blues Female category (and nomination this year), she maintains a subtle harmony with who she is and what she’s about that carries on in the tradition of Mavis Staples. Mavis by the way, calls Ruthie her little sister.

In the times I’ve seen her shows, I have yet to see her not pour every last ounce of herself and her soul into the performance. When she leans back, tilts her head to one side, takes a breath and begins to sing it’s as if she’s reaching for the heavens from the very souls of her feet and she don’t need no microphone! I mean, it’s like Sammy Davis Jr. said once…”If THIS don’t turn you on, you ain’t got noooo switches”.

ImageThis night was CD Release night and as you’d expect, most of the set list came from Let It Burn. Let It Burn sees Ruthie put down the guitar and concentrate on her vocal which was as natural as it was a little different, as was seeing her pick up the Gibson electric. It looks like producer John Chelew (Blind Boys of Alabama, John Hiatt, Richard Thompson) is trying to take Foster in a few new directions.

It also was new, but not unwelcome to see her getting into as many cover songs as she did. Foster’s blistering version of Adele’s Set Fire To The Rain and Los Lobos’ This Time set the pace. One of my favorites was Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire into which she infused the slow sultry smoke reminiscent of a Sade. Foster sang to the heavens with a cover of The Black Keys’ Everlasting Light which appears on the new CD. Even Pete Seeger took honors with a down home soulful version of If I Had A Hammer.

It was good to hear some of the earlier songs like Small Town Blues, Phenominal Woman and Travellin Shoes. In so many ways, those songs and others like it from her earlier records are amazingingly autobiographical and have the same sincerity and soul that the latest ones do.

ImageBy far though, my favorite song of the evening was a duet she and her long time guitar player Hadden Sayers did called Back to the Blues. Sure, sure Hadden wrote the song which is up for song of the year by Blues Music Awards, but the blend of Hadden’s and Ruthie’s voices created something I’ve rarely heard before. They seemed to actually generate that intangible 3rd voice. Indeed, if I was not able to see for myself, I would have sworn there was a 3rd part octave harmony soaked in reverb and entwined ever so tastefully into the vocal patterns. Whatever you’re doing, keep it up cuz that’s the stuff stars are made of y’all.

When Ruthie comes back around (and she will) make sure you go experience one of her performances. I say experience because that’s what it is..an experience. From the gospel roots to the soul and on into the future, Ruthie will always be one of my favorites. Thanks Jay, for the intro so many years ago.

You done us again Dosey Doe…another great job.

Welcome Home
This Time
Set Fire To The Rain
Small Town Blues
Stone Love
You Don’t Miss Your Water
Ring Of Fire
Back To The Blues
If I Had A Hammer
Everlasting Light
Phenomenal Woman
Travellin Shoes
Grinnin In Your Face