Ruthie Foster Big Band
Live At The Paramount
BLUE CORN MUSIC (ORCH)
Ruthie Foster has been releasing great gospel and blues music across the last three decades – always with hints of pop-song writing, jazz and folk too –if Cassandra Wilson is “jazz” but branching out to see and gather from there, then Foster is the “blues” version of Wilson – you could compare her to Bonnie Raitt and Gladys Knight; hints of Mavis Staples and Bettye LaVette are in there too.
But her latest album, a live offering sees her moving from the regular small combo and solo gigs (I saw her a few years back, she was stunningly good) to front a big band – 10 horns, a rhythm section, backing vocalists and a conductor. Her own guitar adding extra colour too.
It’s a wonderful recording, a fantastic vibe and a great set of songs with kick-ass performances from all. Really a wonderful thing – for fans and first-timers. There’s some great gospel (The Ghetto, Death Came A Knockin’) and of course some pure blues (Woke Up This Morning, Singin’ The Blues) but in and around her own originals (Brand New Day, Might Not Be Right) the choice of covers – and the arrangements created for them – is really the selling point here.
Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire is played as a gentle ballad, a brilliant re-working that gives the song back to June Carter as much as it celebrates the Man in Black.
There’s plenty of jazz here too – since that’s what people expect when they hear the words Big Band. Foster is all class on Fly Me To The Moon – the horns really giving it a good hard kick here too of course.
And the closer is Mack The Knife, a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and the version she offered the world.
Foster tells great stories throughout, all based around her connection to music and her love for these songs.
Coming out of lockdown, missing gigs, wondering the state of live music…this album might warm your heart you know. Of course it was recorded at the start of last year but it’s timing for release – now – makes it feel like an even more precious gift. Foster’s such a class act and here the relative gamble of a late-career reinvention as jazz-tinged gospel bandleader really works. For her. And for these songs.
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