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Joy Comes Back
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In the tight-knit musical community of Austin, Texas, it's tough to get away with posturing. You either bring it, or you don't. If you do, word gets around. Praises are sung. And one day, you find yourself performing a duet with Bonnie Raitt in a documentary, or standing onstage with the Allman Brothers at New York's Beacon Theater, trading verses with Susan Tedeschi. You might even wind up getting nominated for a Best Blues Album Grammy three times in a row. In addition to your six Female Artist of the Year/ Koko Taylor Blues Music Awards. For ''Joy Comes Back,'' Foster wasn't merely singing about love and loss; she was splitting a household and custody of her 5-year-old daughter. Music was her therapy. In the warm confines of Austin producer and former neighbor Daniel Barrett's home studio, she found a comfort level she'd never before experienced while recording. It gave her the strength to pour the pain of her family's fracture and the cautious hope of new love into 10 incredible tracks, nine of which are by a diverse array of writers from Mississippi John Hurt, Sean Staples and Grace Pettis, daughter of renowned folk singer Pierce Pettis, to Chris Stapleton and Black Sabbath. Yes, Black Sabbath; Foster re-imagines ''War Pigs'' as a jam session with Son House. She also covers the Four Tops' ''Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,'' written by Ivy Jo Hunter and Stevie Wonder.
Written by Boston folkie Sean Staples with some lyrical tweaks from Foster, [the title track] ''Joy Comes Back'' rumbles along with the kind of deep-roots gospel tenor that makes it sound as if it's been buoying up hearts for generations. The lyrics--''I want to be ready when joy comes back to me'' --are, after all, sort of the essence of faith and what faith is for: the acknowledgement of hardship and weariness, with true resolve that relief is coming. The rhythm rolls steadfastly forward, a slow trek toward a sure destination, with [Derek] Trucks' [slide] guitar soaring above. The question isn't if the joy is coming back, but when. ''That has a lot to do with how I grew up,'' Foster says. ''Not necessarily in the religious sense, but just knowing that things will turn. 'Joy Comes Back' was a song I connected to because I know things get better with time. You put your intentions out there and stand your ground, and know that good times and joy are on the way.'' --NPR, Songs We Love, 2/13/17
If we can go ahead and name the year's best album, it's clearly Ruthie Foster's ''Joy Comes Back.'' The album title cuts many ways, of course: she's glad to be back after some personal struggles over the three years since her last album; it's a joy to have her back ruling the roost with her down-to-the-bone soul songs; and she's discovered the joy she thought she'd lost and she celebrates joyfully with us on the new album. You can feel her defiance, her standing-in-the-face of despair, and her exultant rejoicing in every note of every song on ''Joy Comes Back,'' and by the end of the album we've also been drained and revived, but we're laughing and embracing the bright port we find even in sailing life's dark waters. Foster recorded the album at her former neighbor Dan Barrett's studio, and between the two of them, they chose ten songs that touched Foster and expressed both the depth of her wounds and the bottomlessness of her healing, as well as the hopefulness of a newly discovered love. Joining Foster on the album are Barrett on guitar and percussion, Joe Vitale on drums, Willie Weeks on bass, Derek Trucks (who plays slide on the title track), Grace Pettis on guitar on ''Good Sailor,'' .... Foster wrote only one song on ''Joy Comes Back''--''Open Sky''--but the other nine she and Barrett selected for the album range from Black Sabbath's ''War Pigs'' and Chris Stapleton's ''What Are You Listening To?'' to Ivy Jo Hunter and Stevie Wonder's ''Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever'' and Shawnee Kilgore's ''Abraham.'' As you'd expect from Foster, she finds the vulnerability, the power, the humor, the courage, the joy, and the love in every song and delivers them with her just-right phrasing and canny ability to make the song her own. Maybe the most unexpected song on the album is Black Sabbath's ''War Pigs,'' but this may also be the most fun you ever have singing or listening to the 70s anti-war anthem that's been recorded already by artists as various as Cake, Gov't Mule, and Rockabye Baby! Lullaby. Black Sabbath's original plods along, urging defiance with an angry, though often addled, tone; it's as if they could urge resistance simply by yelling angrily. Foster straps on her resonator guitar and howls resistance in a blues jam that features a call and response among her vocals, Simon Wallace's harmonica, and Foster's guitar. It's dark and forceful, with a wink-and-a-nod playfulness in the music itself, laying bare the gleefulness of judgment on the ''war pigs'' in the final verses. On the title track, written by Sean Staples, Foster returns to her gospel roots. The song opens with Red Young's jaunty church piano that's augmented quickly by Trucks' slide guitar. From those opening bars on, the spirit moves us along as Foster declares that she wants to ''be ready/when joy comes back again.'' Built on a blues structure, the power of the song builds from its repetition, its gospel shouts, and the call-and-response of the instruments as Trucks slide guitar answers Young's Hammond organ on the bridge. Foster adds a verse to the song where she joyously proclaims that she's risen again: ''Spirit get low, Lord/Spirit get low, sometime/Spirit get low, Lord/But I'm gonna rise again.'' By the end of the song, she's preaching deliverance and proclaiming in true Sunday fashion as she fills the air with gospel shouts ''whoa, I'm gonna rise again/here comes my joy.'' Foster's joyfulness is palpable as she celebrates the movement from the humility of despair to the bliss and rapture of pure joy. You can't listen to this album and be unmoved by Foster's pure musical genius and her way of singing these songs with such power and grace that they touch and change our hearts. Joy, indeed. --No Depression, Henry Carrigan, 3/22, 2017
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The record was made in Austin, Texas in guitarist/producer Daniel Barrett's studio and sounds great, with Ruthie sounding very at ease and relaxed. The title track is testifying gospel with the addition of Derek Trucks' fabulous slide guitar, "Working Woman" by Grace Pettis is a powerful plea for women's rights in the modern world and Pettis also wrote "Good Sailor" a melodic ballad with sailing imagery informing life lessons - "smooth seas never made a good sailor". "Abraham" by Shawnee Kilgore is a song about President Abe Lincoln - which may well have a message for the current President. There are some star session players involved here including Trucks, Larry Fulcher and Willie Weeks on bass, Warren Hood on fiddle and mandolin, Frank LoCrasto on keyboards and Joe Vitale on drums but for me its Ruthie's voice that is the star of every track. This is a good, well-played record that has lots of variety and as well as well-chosen covers also includes modern songs with important messages.