Tag Archives: Ruthie Foster

Ruthie Foster Readies ‘Let It Burn,’ 2012 Tour

Those who have followed Ruthie Foster’s eclectic musical history know that she can burn down any stage with her combustible blend of soul, blues, rock, folk and gospel. And when Grammy Award-winning producer John Chelew suggested she record an album in New Orleans — with support handpicked from the Crescent City’s overflowing pool of talent — it was an opportunity for Ruthie to infuse fresh spices into her already rich sonic gumbo. The result is Let It Burn — slated for January 31, 2012 release on Blue Corn Music — a recording that smolders, sizzles and ignites with an intensity born from her vibrant voice and indelible presence.

Ruthie’s astonishing voice has taken her on an amazing ride. She came from humble church choir beginnings in rural Texas, followed by a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy Band, and ended up in New York City with a major-label development deal that went sour. After she moved back to Texas to care for her ailing mother, Foster took a break from singing professionally for a couple of years. When she resumed her music career in Austin, she became a regular nominee at the Austin Music Awards, winning Best Folk Artist in 2004-05 and Best Female Vocalist in 2007-08. Broadening her sound by blending blues and soul aspects into her folk roots, Ruthie added a Grammy nomination to her list of achievements (Best Contemporary Blues Album for her last studio release, 2009’s The Truth According to Ruthie Foster). And, in a nod to her astounding range, she then won seemingly contradictory Blues Music Association awards for both Best Traditional and Best Contemporary Female Blues Artist in back-to-back years.

In addition to leading her own band and touring it around the world, Foster has also collaborated on stage and recordings with a diverse list of artists including Warren Haynes, Big Head Todd, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Bibb and Paul Thorn. She’s a regular favorite at an equally diverse list of festivals such as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Monterey Blues Festival, Merlefest and the Kate Wolf Festival.

The ingredients for Let It Burn, recorded at New Orleans’ Piety Street Studios, start with some of that city’s most respected players: The Funky Meters’ rhythm section of bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Russell Batiste, guitarist Dave Easley, and renowned saxophonist James Rivers collectively infuse the tracks with the groove-based, in-the-pocket vibe that comes naturally to New Orleans-bred musicians. The addition of Hammond B3 wizard Ike Stubblefield, who has toured and recorded with everyone from Curtis Mayfield to Eric Clapton, gives the album a jazzy organ-combo feel. Finally, legendary gospel singers the Blind Boys of Alabama and soul icon William Bell add extra depth to the project’s surprisingly eclectic collection of cover songs and fresh originals.

Besides the New Orleans location, there was another significant “first” associated with these sessions. “This is the only album I’ve done where I don’t play an instrument, which is really different. It gave me a lot more freedom vocally. Without a guitar, all I did was concentrate on singing,” Foster explains. “Sometimes I tried to channel Mavis Staples vocally, but I also wanted to bring a kind of Cassandra Wilson/Sade sultriness to some of the songs.”

The results are powerful, defining performances of Adele’s anthemic “Set Fire to the Rain,” John Martyn’s poignant and sensual “Don’t Want to Know,” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” all of which take on new vibrancy with distinctive musical arrangements and Ruthie’s commanding presence. The achingly beautiful, atmospheric ballad version of “Ring of Fire” is at the heart of this album, and potently showcases Foster as one of the finest interpretive singers of our time. “When it comes to songs, often older ones, I love it when they find me and that’s what happened with ‘Ring of Fire.’ I put myself inside of that song, which speaks to the passion of a new relationship,” she says.

Ruthie mines other tunes from a variety of sources such as the Black Keys (“Everlasting Light,” given a sparkling and righteous treatment), Pete Seeger (a dynamic, ominous swamp/jazz reimagining of “If I Had a Hammer”) and Los Lobos (the rambling, haunting “This Time”).

The church is never far from anything Foster touches as her spiritual original “Lord Remember Me” with the Blind Boys, featuring a sanctified slide solo from guitarist Easley, makes clear. The album’s opening and closing tracks also spotlight the Blind Boys and bookend the project with a devotional approach. “I haven’t lost my gospel in the way I approach a song,” explains Ruthie.

Another new Foster song is “Aim for the Heart” (a co-write with Jon Tiven), which works Porter’s funky bass, Stubblefield’s expressive organ and Easley’s snake-like guitar into a groove which supports the deeply personal motto (“Aim for the heart/And you’ll never go wrong”) that Foster has exhibited in both her life and music.

Rounding out this smoldering collection of tunes are covers of The Band’s melancholic “It Makes No Difference,” David Crosby’s politically charged “Long Time Gone” and William Bell’s classic “You Don’t Miss Your Water” (with Bell dueting on a slow, jazz/blues version of the standard, augmented by a stunning Rivers solo), all of which further display Ruthie’s uncanny knack for finding the simmering essence of any song.

On Let It Burn, Ruthie Foster takes the listener on her most personal journey yet, sounding like she is pouring her heart out late at night, and her deeply soulful vocals create a spiritual soundscape to support her testimony. This is the album her fans have been waiting for — and that the rest of the world will listen to in wonder.

Sat., Jan. 14      NORFOLK, VA   Attucks Theater
Sun., Jan. 15    CHARLESTON, WV  Mountain Stage
Sat., Jan. 21     CROCKETT, TX     Crockett Civic Theater
Tues., Jan. 31     LOS ANGELES, CA     Grammy Museum
Wed., Feb. 1    LOS ANGELES, CA     Grammy Museum
Thurs., Feb. 2    PORTLAND, OR    Aladdin Theater, with Paul Thorn
Fri., Feb. 3   SPOKANE, WA   The Bing Crosby Theater, with Paul Thorn
Sat., Feb. 4   SEATTLE, WA  The Triple Door, with Paul Thorn
Mon., Feb. 6   CHICO, CA   Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., with Paul Thorn
Tues., Feb. 7   ARCATA, CA   Humboldt State University, with Paul Thorn
Wed., Feb. 8    NAPA, CA    Napa Valley Opera House, with Paul Thorn
Thurs., Feb. 9   SAN FRANCISCO, CA   Great American Music Hall, with Paul Thorn
Fri., Feb. 10   SANTA BARBARA, CA   UC Santa Barbara, with Paul Thorn
Sat., Feb. 11   PHOENIX, AZ   The Compound Grill, with Paul Thorn
Sun., Feb. 12   TUCSON, AZ  Berger Performing Arts Center, with Paul Thorn
Tues., Feb. 14  STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO  Strings Music Pavilion, with Paul Thorn
Thurs., Feb. 16  DURANGO, CO   Fort Lewis College, with Paul Thorn
Fri., Feb. 17   BEAVER CREEK, CO   Vilar Center for the Arts  with Paul Thorn
Sat., Feb. 18   DENVER, CO    Swallow Hill Music Presents @L2 Arts & Culture Center, with Paul Thorn
Thurs., Feb. 23   THE WOODLANDS, TX   Dosey Doe Café
Fri., Feb. 24   AUSTIN, TX   Antone’s
Fri., March 2 CARRBORO, NC Cat’s Cradle, with Paul Thorn (T)
Sat., March 3   WINSTON-SALEM, NC Ziggy’s, with Paul Thorn (T)
Sun., March 4 ROANOKE, VA Kirk Ave, with Paul Thorn (T)
Wed., March 7 ALEXANDRIA, VA Birchmere, with Paul Thorn (T)
Thurs., March 8 PHILADELPHIA, PA WCL, with Paul Thorn (T)
Fri., March 9  NEW YORK, NY City Winery, with Paul Thorn (T)
Sat., March 10   CHATHAM, NJ Sanctuary, with Paul Thorn (T)
Wed.-Fri., March 14-16  AUSTIN, TX  SXSW
Fri., March 17 DALLAS, TX    Kessler Theater
Sat.-Sun., March 24-25   SAVANNAH, GA   Savannah Music Festival
Sat., March 31  SCHAUMBURG, IL  Schaumburg Prairie Center for the Arts

Diddley brings his friends to Seattle

Bo Diddley/Alvin Youngblood Hart/Ruthie Foster

Benaroyal Hall 

Seattle, Washington 

October 3, 2006


words/photos by Candise Kola 



When Bo Diddley comes to Seattle, one can expect to see a memorable blues show.

When it’s billed as “Bo Diddley & Friends” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bo’s musical career, it’s easy to get excited about the occasion.

You have to suppose that when Bo was deciding who he would like to have on the road with him to make this milestone tour remarkable, he thought to call on modern blues artists who have kept tradition alive while striving for originality in their own careers.  This tour is sure to remind Bo’s fans, young and old alike, that his music’s influence has spanned generations.  There are contemporary musicians who will incorporate his music’s legacy long after he departs his earthly role of Musical Lifetime Achiever.  


The show began with a 30 min acoustic set by Ruthie Foster. Ruthie's vocal delivery has a soulful, gospel-influenced sound.  She plays guitar confidently, accompanying her singing with just the right amount of gently strummed, well-grooved rhythm.  The highlight of her act is an acapella cover of Son House's “Grinning in Your Face.”  Her willingness to put her guitar down and explain that she is going to sing the way her “grandmother likes it” shows the audience that this Texas-born performer is sentimental, and wants to share the music she was brought up to believe in.  The audience shares back, and joy is expressed in the room with background claps to keep the girl in time.  She is casual, genuinely thrilled to have been invitated to join the tour, and the pride she expresses in her performance makes watching her sing an absolute pleasure.  


Alvin Youngblood Hart


Alvin Youngblood Hart is also given 30 minuntes to delight, rock, shock, and inspire the audience. His set is a bold departure from the female acoustic greeting the audience warmed up to, and displays a more rugged approach to keeping the blues roots healthy and alive.  Alvin’s guitar playing was abundantly backed by Bo’s band members.  He was given the spotlight – his gritty guitar playing and vocal rumble demand it – and definitely shined in his power to bring boogie noise and edge to the stage.  Songs from his most recent CD, Motivational Speaker, were played with well-rehearsed assertion.  The audience was served a heaping helping of homegrown and heartfelt rock and roll to get them ready for the main course being served by Bo. 


Bo Diddley


Bo Diddley is 77 years old this year.  It made me grin from ear to ear to take a good look at him as he made his way across the stage to his chair.  His wide eyed smile, his flashy red guitar, and his traditional classy hat were all worn with poise.  He was greeted by a very loving crowd and reciprocated by making sure he invited everyone in the house to get up and shake what their mama gave 'em, and within minutes of playing there was dancing in the aisles.  As I looked around this full symphony room setting and studied who compromised the night's audience, I was moved to see the variety of ages represented.  The fans were concentrated in the 60+ range but it was great to see that no matter what age the fans were, they were all celebrating Bo’s career with joy in their hearts.  It was extremely inspiring to see this man take pleasure in the fruits of his labor by sharing stories and jams from his rock and roll vaults, speaking honestly about his increased efforts to take good care of his health,  Rapping up a sexy 10 minute storm, Bo shifted gears into a smoothly sung political message to America to wake up to its leadership.  Bo’s guitar playing and vocals are as sharp as ever, and he brings 50 years of fun from his pocket to the act.  He is living proof that a lifetime of rockin' can be done with class. 


The show closed out by bringing out Alvin on guitar and Ruthie to sing, while Bo works his way back to the drum set for the last notes of the night.  He seemed satisfied in making sure his audience remembers him best for that "Bo Diddley beat" as the show ends.  


This tour is a must see for any blues enthusiast, you are guaranteed a song in your heart and smile on your face when you leave.