Since her 1997 debut, Ruthie Foster has been creating her own brand of acoustic soul. After roaming the country making music, Ruthie has returned to her Texas roots to create her latest project, The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster. Now don’t mistake the title of the CD for arrogance—its in reference to a track on the CD featuring the famous poem “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou that has been set to music by Foster.
The music of Ruthie Foster is the type of sound that’s hard to neatly classify. The listener can hear the voice of the church, the jook joint, blues clubs, and nature all ebbing and flowing throughout her songs. The somewhat cliché term “acoustic soul” comes to mind because the live guitar and drum set are so prominent in her work. But in spite of the organic instrumentation, the strongest feature of Foster’s sound is her own voice. At her best, she is a singer with a strong and robust voice that is reminiscent of Big Mama Thornton, Mahalia Jackson, Yolanda Adams, and Bernice Johnson Reagon.
The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster is a collection of eleven songs that lyrically seem to serve as an introspective on life. Titles like “Cuz I’m Here,” “I Don’t Know What to Do with My Heart” and “Fruits of My Labor” all deal with deeply personal parts of self. Ruthie’s band, made up of a Wurlitzer electric piano, guitar, piano, bass, drums, percussion, and Hammond B3 organ provide a steady undercurrent of support for her strong vocal delivery.
The best songs on The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster are in the beginning, where she does not attempt to downplay her voice. “Cuz I’m Here” epitomizes a great vocal solo, with an uplifting message and a great backing band. “People Grinnin’ in You Face” starts out a capella and develops much like that moment in church when a church lady starts singing her favorite hymn and the congregation joins in with foot-stomping, hand clapping, and harmony. Unfortunately, her delivery and instrumentation hit a slump after track eight from which the album never really recovers. Perhaps even more unfortunate is that “Phenomenal Woman” is included in that slump. The words of course are beautiful, but Foster’s laid back delivery undermines the strength and energy of Maya Angelou’s poetry.
Ultimately, the triumph of The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster is that she presents an uncommonly beautiful vocal performance, great song writing, and simple instrumentation. Those are all ingredients that music lovers can never get enough of.
Posted by fredara mareva