Ruthie Foster can't contain herself. Music just gushes out of her like oil from an uncapped well. As soon as she got on stage at Greensboro's Carolina Theater while trying to introduce her first song, little musical “yeah yeah yeah's” and “well, well, wells” bubbled up out of her. The 1200 seat house was less than half full for her second appearance after a four year absence,but that didn't seem to bother Foster, who seemed bursting with energy, ready to unleash her gospel fire on the crowd.
She jumped off with Patti Griffin's “When It Don't Come Easy,” singing like a rock and roll angel. “We're gonna put a little Otis Redding and Sam Cooke in it and sprinkle some Ruthie Foster on top,” she said, introducing Lucinda Williams “Fruits Of My Labor,” which Foster recorded for '07's aptly titled The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster. And, as advertised, it reeked with gospel soul. Foster warned that drummer Samantha Banks was about to catch fire because it was her favorite, but it was Foster that provided the heat for this one.
“Ah feel lak SANGIN',” Foster said afterward, in a broad Texas accent. “Sometimes you gotta SANG, not jes sing.” Sanging is what Foster does throughout her shows, blasting away with rockin' gospel fervor, her vocals rivaling the power and majesty of a pipe organ.
"I wrote this one for Bonnie Raitt,” she says, introducing “Aim For the Heart,” from her last album, Let It Burn. “She sent it back,” Foster says, chuckling, “but that's all right.” It's more than all right. Guitarist Hadden Sayres put some wa-wa pedaled flourishes on top, bassist Tanya Richardson adding some snaky, soul-rattling bottom line fonk. It would be a perfect vehicle for Raitt, but after Foster gets through decorating it with her melismatic gospel tones, it'd be a hard act to follow.
Foster added a speedy punch to Ann Peebles' “You Keep Me Hangin' On.” Peebles' version was drenched in soul, but Foster added a gospel dimension as well. Foster obviously enjoys her work, a big grin on her face, bouncing up and down, shimmying from side to side with joy as she sings.
Foster showed off her diva side, ripping off a few bars of Freda Pane's “Band Of Gold” before collapsing with laughter, then getting back to her rural Texas roots, admitting “I'm just a country girl, so we're gonna do some two-steppin' blues, get a little twang up in here.” The song is “Small Town Blues,” but sounds like Doug Sahm's “She's About a Mover,” permeated with a strong Tex-Mex flavor.
She offered up some deep dish gospel soul with Terri Hendrix's “Hole In My Pocket,” the band providing 4-part family style gospel harmony.
Sayres stepped up for an impressive falsetto solo on "Back to The Blues," but got knocked out of the box as soon as Foster cut loose with a goose-bump inducing, soulful wail.
“Mama Said” is Foster's tribute to her mother, who wanted to share with her daughter the mistakes she made so Ruthie wouldn't have to. “Girl, you better learn how to pray,” her mother told her, and Foster's moving retelling of her advice has many in the crowd in tears.
Foster lightened things up introducing her version of Johnny Cash's “Ring of Fire,” which Foster says Roseanne Cash admitted was her second favorite version when the two shared a stage recently. Foster's is a complete makeover, jazzy soul with a lush Motown-style accompaniment with a churchy feel.
Drummer Samantha Banks brought out the mallets for “Save The Drowning Child,” pounding away with a Bo Diddley beat as Foster took the crowd to church. But that was just the warmup. If you think Son House had the definitive version of “People Grinnin 'In Your Face,” hearing Foster sermonize on it will make you a Ruthie convert. She seemed lost in the spirit, standing guitarless at center stage, arms upraised, eyes closed, lifting her voice to the heavens in supplication, an operatic gospel performance that had the crowd shouting like camp meeting sinners who have seen the light and heard the slam bang gospel truth.
There was no way to follow that, so Foster left the stage, giving the audience a few moments to compose themselves before coming back to lead the crowd in a bluesy, churchy, arm-waving rendition of “No Woman No Cry” that segued into “Three Little Birds,” Foster conducting a call and response sharing session with the congregation. After Foster had milked every last drop of religious fervor from the swaying, misty-eyed crowd, she announced that true believers could follow her out in the lobby for even more anointing in the Foster spirit, as she pressed the fan flesh and sold autographed chunks of her music.
And since everybody who comes in contact with Foster wants more,the faithful packed the lobby for one more brush with her presence and a chance to take home some glory on record 'till the next time services convene at the house of Ruthie traveling gospel soul blues church.
By Grant Britt