Ruthie Foster: Let It Burn

There was always a gospel element in the way Foster delivered her vocals. She openly emphasizes this aspect of her voice on her latest album.

Ruthie Foster

Let It Burn

Label: Blue Corn
US Release Date: 2012-01-31
UK Release Date: 2012-01-31

Ruthie Foster first sang in the church choir while growing up in rural Texas. While she became successful mixing folk, blues, rock and country together in that way that seems so natural in Lone Star performers, there was always a gospel element in the way she delivered her vocals. She openly emphasizes this aspect of her voice on her latest album, Let It Burn, by choosing appropriately churchy accompaniment that includes the Blind Boys of Alabama on four tracks and master Hammond B3 organist Ike Stubblefield, and selecting righteous material that includes everything from old time spirituals, such as “The Titanic” to the Stax standard “You Don’t Miss the Water” (duetting with the original hit maker, William Bell), to self-penned spirituals, such as “Lord Remember Me” to Adele’s elemental “Set Fire to the Rain”. The results make the listener want to jump in the aisles and shout with joy.

This is the first album in which Foster only sings and does not play guitar. This allows her to concentrate on her vocals. Foster always sings well, but this time she seems to be challenging herself to do more than just emote in key. Sure, she still does this, but she also uses her vocals as an instrument and banters along with David Easely’s sliding guitar notes, or Stubblefield’s ringing organ reverberations. For example, Easely begins the Black Key’s “Everlasting Light” with a crunchy guitar riff that sounds made in the mud it’s so damn down and dirty. Foster joins in with an almost growl but takes the music up a notch by singing long lines so that when Stubblefield’s organ comes in it sounds as if we are already on the road to redemption. He just drives us home. The rest of the band also deserves mention. New Orleans musicians George Porter Jr. (bass), Russell Batiste (drums), and James Rivers (saxophone) all make solid, soulful contributions.

Foster also takes some very familiar material, such as Johnnie Cash’s hit “Ring of Fire” into something far different than its original source. She makes the burning love into something much sweeter and urbane than Cash’s. When she croons “the taste of love is sweet”, one can almost taste the honey dripping from her tongue. It seems that she and Cash are singing two completely dissimilar songs. The divergence from an original is also true of her rendition of “If I Had a Hammer.” Pete Seeger sang it as a communal celebration. Foster turns it into an individual cry of empowerment. These two songs are iconic members of contemporary music. Foster makes them her own by showing facets of the well-worn material that had been hitherto neglected.

The Blind Boys of Alabama turn each of their four cuts into a holy celebration. They and Foster open and close the disc with religious fervour. The strangest track is the somewhat dated version of ‘60s rock classic, Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Long Time Gone”. Foster uses the occasions to spread the song’s message (“You gotta speak out against the madness /speak out if you dare”), but on a record filled with religious conviction, this social message seems forced and flat. Foster’s much better when she gets personal. Her version of John Martyn’s “Don’t Want to Know” that starts “I don’t want to know about evil / I just want to know about love” positively smolders. She can successfully take that sentiment to the church, but not to the streets.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.