Live at Antone's
Soul, blues, gospel, and to a lesser extent, folksinger Ruthie Foster was probably tired of hearing fans say her albums were good but never quite captured the vitality of her live show. She rectifies that on this CD/DVD set. It captures her with an expanded and very hot band in front of a rowdy crowd at Austin's legendary hot spot Antone's. Foster cherry-picks selections predominantly from her previous two studio albums, and interestingly, only includes three of her own compositions out of the 14 cuts here. Still, interpretations of songs from Lucinda Williams ("Fruits of My Labor"), Patty Griffin ("When It Don't Come Easy"), and even Sister Rosetta Tharpe ("Up Above My Head [I Hear Music in the Air])" are stamped with her commanding, church-influenced vocals and arrangements that find the deep soul in everything she touches. Guitarist Hadden Sayers gets to showcase his sweet "Back to the Blues," sung as a duet with Foster, but things get really bluesy on a scorching version of O.V. Wright's "A Nickel and a Nail." Guitarist Papa Mali, who produced Foster's 2007 The Phenomenal album, guests on slide guitar for the rock spiritual "Heal Yourself." Keyboardist Scotty Miller's organ work goes a long way to boosting the spiritual aspects of the music, especially the traditional "Woke Up This Morning," but it's Foster's superb voice, genuine warmth, and affable personality that make this her most likeable and cohesive album. When she opens up and lets fly on the 11-minute gospel/funk of "Death Comes Knocking," including a spotlight-stealing bass solo from longtime cohort and cousin Tanya Richardson, it's clear the stage is the place to expose her talents to a wider audience. The accompanying DVD helps that enormously. It's professionally shot, beautifully recorded with seemingly no overdubs, and includes the easygoing, between-song banter that is cut from the audio CD and shows Foster's innate sense of humor. It also displays how she effortlessly holds an audience spellbound with her powerful pipes and natural command of her band, the stage, and an unpretentious confidence in her eclectic approach to music.