Ruthie FosterRuthie Foster’s latest album is eponymous, save for the fact her name is prefaced by ‘The Phenomenal’. She is. While, by all accounts, in no way immodest, she can’t help but flaunt a talent so encompassing. A gospel-blues-roots artist with a smalltown church choir upbringing, Ruthie’s musical path could be seen as pure destiny. On the acoustic guitar, she is nothing short of flash, showing self-assured mastery and a genuine connection (she’s even named it Albertina Taylor; Taylor, after the maker; Albertina, after an admired singer). In that way, vocally and stylistically, she is sometimes redolent of her good friend, Eric Bibb, but, equally, draws on a vast array of influences; surprising with interpolations of Stevie Wonder’s Master Blaster and, of all things, an almost unrecognisable rendition of Stephen Foster’s (no relation, I shouldn’t think) ‘Oh, Susannah!’, which she entirely reworked as a fragile ballad.

Ms Foster is staunchly, proudly Texan (she hailed from Gause), without any of the parochial affectations: more Dixie Chick than presidential rancher (‘some good things come outa Texas’). Indeed, if she wasn’t spreading the musical word, she’d easily cut the mustard as an inspirational preacher, a la Martin Luther King, Junior. At one point, late in the evening, she set down her guitar, waited to be imbued with ‘the spirit’ and led her compliant fans down a yellow brick road to salvation, via singalong. Well, that’s how it felt.

It becomes impossible and  arbitrary to nominate highlights; nonetheless, her highly-successful attempt at writing in the style of idol Sam Cooke has delivered the sweetly beautiful, (Another) Rain Song, which you can find on her second album, from ’99, Crossover and, also, on her third, live, Stages, from circa 2004.

The hypnotic gospel groove of Walk On, the clap-your-hands People Grinnin’ In Your Face & the sassier soul evocation implicit in Up Above My Head, all from her fifth and latest album, The Phenomenal, show, unmistakably, you can take the girl outa chapel, but you can’t take the chapel outa the girl.

Ruthie shows downright reverence for the likes of Son House, Aretha, Otis & Odetta, but, even in this esteemed company, she cuts the mustard. In fact, I can’t imagine a stage, no matter who might be on it, she wouldn’t command, such is her presence: her vocal capacities are inestimable; she can soar, to the heavens, with a voice as rich and sensuous as bathing in Belgian chocolate, raunch it out, whatever’s required. And a PA is almost an optional extra when you’ve got lungs like this young woman. By the time she hit the stage for an encore, in response to a heartfelt ovation, we lapped up No Woman, No Cry, like babes clinging to their earth-mother.

In every sense, she’s a performer: such depth of feeling; intelligence; humour; sincerity. Better yet, Ruthie Foster gave us something to take away: cleansed souls & hearts full of love. And this from a hard bitten, secular cynic.

This review wouldn’t be complete without paying homage, however brief & inadequate, to Ruthie’s mindblowing support, Bluehouse, a female duo, hailing from Melbourne. Outward appearances notwithstanding, these gutsy girls are cut from the same soul-deep vocal cloth as the headline act, giving it all they’ve got, which is a helluva lot! Jacqueline Walter & Bernadette Carroll, produced, incongruously by ‘a fairly average guitarist’, Tommy Emmanuel, could blow the back wall out of any venue. Billed, variously and, perhaps, damningly, as folk-pop and sweet gospel-soul, they are, in fact, unclassifiable; as well as sly, dry & wry. Their take on the Penn-Moman classic, Do Right Woman, was enough, on its own, to tickle me down to the tips of my toes.

Plaudits, too, to the venue, the newish Factory Theatre, at Enmore, where one can park easily (right out front), has a shot at a comfortable, front-row seat (first in, first served, general admission), can hang at the bar, up the back, or sit, with a modicum of legroom, airconditioned, while experiencing theatre-style intimacy and superlative sound.


TUE 4 MARCH The Basement Sydney | 02 9251 2797
SAT 8 MARCH Port Fairy Folk Festival Port Fairy
SUN 9 MARCH Port Fairy Folk Festival Port Fairy |
THU 13 MARCH Northcote Social Club Melbourne | 03 9486 1677
FRI 14 MARCH Brunswick Town Hall Melbourne | 03 9388 1460
SAT 15 MARCH MossVale Music Festival MossVale |
SUN 16 MARCH Blue Mountains Music Festival of Folk, Roots & Blues Katoomba |
THU 20 MARCH The Factory Theatre Enmore | 132 849 | 02 9550 3666 |
SAT 22 MARCH Point Nepean Music Festival Mornington Peninsula |
Also appearing at East Coast Blues & Roots Festival Byron Bay Easter Long Weekend

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