Ruthie Foster has made the album of her career with 'The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster'. Austin legend Papa Mali handles the production and guitar duties joining Ruthie and some of Austin's top musicians in a very strong set of originals and covers of songs by Son House, Sister Rosetta Thorpe and Lucinda Williams. This deeply grooving album shows a side of Ruthie that has ever really been captured in the studio before as she displays her talents on the Fender/Rhodes and unleashes her soulful vocals on the funkiest songs she has ever recorded.
Ruthie Foster's the newest voice in old-school soul. Her fifth album is a remarkable flashback to the genre's '60s and '70s heyday, framing her warm butter-and-cayenne-pepper singing with organ, electric piano, shimmering guitar textures, and strong backbeats. That sound, along with her strength as a song interpreter--rippling with beauty on Lucinda Williams's "Fruits of My Labor," stunningly emotional on Son House's cautionary Delta spiritual "People Grinnin' in Your Face"--and her fine-tuned social politics, makes Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, and Nina Simone reasonable artistic references. For the 42-year-old Texan, this historic approach is new. Until now she's been an obscure acoustic-guitar-wielding singer-songwriter. And, indeed, the evocative lyricism of her own tunes "Harder Than the Fall," "Heal Yourself," and "Beaver Creek Blues" is clearly the work of an experienced craftsperson. But the performances on this elegant album, made under the tutelage of imaginative and empathetic Austin-based producer Malcolm Welbourne, live up to its boastful title, and seem destined to bring Foster the larger audience she deserves. --Ted Drozdowski