Ruthie Foster is a four-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter who mixes a wide palette of American song forms, from gospel and blues to jazz, folk and soul. Described by Rolling Stone as “pure magic to watch and hear,” her vocal talent was elevated in worship services at her community church. Drawing influence from legendary acts like Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin, Foster developed a unique sound unable to be contained within a single genre. That uniqueness echoes a common theme in Ruthie’s life and career – marching to the beat of her own drum. Ruthie is currently working on her new album, due out in late 2022.

In the tightknit musical community of Austin, Texas, it’s tough to get away with posturing. You either bring it, or you don’t.

 

If you do, word gets around. Praises are sung. And one day, you find yourself duetting with Bonnie Raitt, or standing onstage with the Allman Brothers at New York’s Beacon Theater and trading verses with Susan Tedeschi. You might even wind up getting nominated for a Best Blues Album Grammy — three times in a row. And those nominations would be in addition to your seven Blues Music Awards, three Austin Music Awards, the Grand Prix du Disque award from the Académie Charles-Cros in France, and a Living Blues Critics’ Award for Female Blues Artist of the Year.

 

There’s only one Austinite with that résumé: Ruthie Foster.

 

The small rural town of Gause, TX had no chance of keeping the vocal powerhouse known as Ruthie Foster to itself. Described by Rolling Stone as “pure magic to watch and hear,” her vocal talent was elevated in worship services at her community church. Drawing influence from legendary acts like Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin, Ruthie developed a unique sound unable to be contained within a single genre. That uniqueness echoes a common theme in Foster’s life and career – marching to the beat of her own drum.

 

Joining the Navy was one way for Ruthie to stake out her own path. It was during her time singing for the Navy band Pride that her love for performing became apparent. After leaving the service, Ruthie signed a development deal with Atlantic Records and moved to New York City to pursue a career as a professional musician.

 

A deal with a major label would seem to be a dream come true for a budding artist. But the label wanted Ruthie to hand over her authenticity in exchange for being molded into a pop star. In another bold move, she walked away from the deal and returned to her roots, moving back to the Lone Star State.

 

Returning to Texas, Ruthie solidified her place as an up-and-coming singer/songwriter and began a musical partnership with Blue Corn Music. Her studio albums for the label began with Runaway Soul in 2002, followed by The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster in 2007, The Truth According to Ruthie Foster in 2009, Let It Burn in 2012 and Promise of a Brand New Day in 2014. Her live shows, which she has referred to as a “hallelujah time,” have been documented on the album Stages in 2004 and the CD/DVD release Live at Antone’s in 2011.

 

Then came Ruthie’s latest – Joy Comes Back – again on Blue Corn Music. When she recorded this album, Foster wasn’t merely singing about love and loss; she was splitting a household and custody of her 5-year-old daughter. Music was her therapy.

 

In the warm confines of Austin producer and former neighbor Daniel Barrett’s studio, she found a comfort level she’d never before experienced while recording. It gave her the strength to pour the heartache of her family’s fracture and the cautious hope of a new love into 10 tracks, nine of which are by a diverse array of writers ranging from Mississippi John Hurt to Chris Stapleton to Black Sabbath. Yes, Black Sabbath: Foster reimagines “War Pigs” as a jam session with Son House. She also covers the Four Tops’ “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” written by Ivy Jo Hunter and Stevie Wonder.

 

And she makes each one hers, aided by some special guests. Derek Trucks drops slide guitar into the title tune; bassist Willie Weeks (Bowie, Clapton, George Harrison) plays on the Foster-penned “Open Sky”; and drumming legend Joe Vitale (Crosby, Stills & Nash; Eagles) appears on several tracks. Local hero Warren Hood (“Champ Hood’s boy,” as Foster calls him) lays fiddle and mandolin on Hurt’s bluegrass-tinted “Richland Woman Blues.”

 

At one point, Barrett described the album to Hood as “some blues, some folk, some soul, some rock, some gospel.” Hood replied, “Sounds like Ruthie Foster music.”

 

In the tightknit musical community of Austin, Texas, it’s tough to get away with posturing. You either bring it, or you don’t.

If you do, word gets around. And one day, you find yourself duetting with Bonnie Raitt, or standing onstage with the Allman Brothers at New York’s Beacon Theater and trading verses with Susan Tedeschi. You might even wind up getting nominated for a Best Blues Album Grammy — three times in a row. And those nominations would be in addition to your seven Blues Music Awards, three Austin Music Awards, the Grand Prix du Disque award from the Académie Charles-Cros in France, and a Living Blues Critics’ Award for Female Blues Artist of the Year.

There’s only one Austinite with that résumé: Ruthie Foster.

The small rural town of Gause, TX had no chance of keeping the vocal powerhouse known as Ruthie Foster to itself. The worship services at her community church and influences like Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin created the foundation of her vocal capabilities, which developed into her own sound which is unable to be contained within a single genre. That uniqueness echoes a common theme in Ruthie’s life and career – marching to the beat of her own drum.

Joining the Navy was one way for Ruthie to stake out her own path. It was during her time singing for the Navy band Pride that her love for performing became apparent. After leaving the service, Ruthie signed a development deal with Atlantic Records and moved to New York City to pursue a career as a professional musician.

A deal with a major label would seem to be a dream come true for a budding artist, but the label favored Ruthie as a pop star. In another bold move, she walked away from the deal and returned to her roots, moving back to the Lone Star State.

Returning to Texas, Ruthie solidified her place as an up-and-coming singer/songwriter and began a musical partnership with Blue Corn Music, whom she has stood beside for all her releases over the past two decades.

Now comes Ruthie’s latest – Joy Comes Back – again on Blue Corn Music. When she recorded this album, Foster wasn’t merely singing about love and loss; she was splitting a household and custody of her 5-year-old daughter. Music was her therapy.

The comfort she felt within the studio gave her the strength to pour the heartache of her family’s fracture and the cautious hope of a new love into 10 incredible tracks, nine of which are by a diverse array of writers ranging from Mississippi John Hurt and Grace Pettis (daughter of renowned folk singer Pierce Pettis), to Chris Stapleton and Black Sabbath. It takes a true artist to make an outside song their own and, if you know Ruthie, you know she succeeds. The Recording Academy might want to put its engraver on notice. Every note on Joy Comes Back confirms this truth: It’s Ruthie’s time.

At one point, producer Daniel Barrett described the album to local hero Warren Hood, who lays fiddle and mandolin on “Richland Woman Blues,” as “some blues, some folk, some soul, some rock, some gospel.” Hood replied, “Sounds like Ruthie Foster music.”

Grace Pettis, from Lookout Mountain, Alabama, has songwriting in her blood.  The daughter of a poetry scholar and a troubadour, Grace comes by her love of words honestly.  Her father, Pierce Pettis, is a critically acclaimed songwriter and performer who penned the Garth Brooks hit “You Move Me.” Both Grace’s brothers Rayvon and George (100 Watt Horse) are songwriters and musicians.
What sets her apart in her talented family is her distinct, unaffected voice, described as a “wide open prairie, full of waving golden grains before menacing, dark thunder clouds” (SiriusXM Program Director, Mary Sue Twohy).

In the tightknit musical community of Austin, Texas, it’s tough to get away with posturing. You either bring it, or you don’t.

If you do, word gets around. And one day, you find yourself duetting with Bonnie Raitt, or standing onstage with the Allman Brothers at New York’s Beacon Theater and trading verses with Susan Tedeschi. You might even wind up getting nominated for a Best Blues Album Grammy — three times in a row. And those nominations would be in addition to your seven Blues Music Awards, three Austin Music Awards, the Grand Prix du Disque award from the Académie Charles-Cros in France, and a Living Blues Critics’ Award for Female Blues Artist of the Year.

There’s only one Austinite with that résumé: Ruthie Foster.

The small rural town of Gause, TX had no chance of keeping the vocal powerhouse known as Ruthie Foster to itself. The worship services at her community church and influences like Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin created the foundation of her vocal capabilities, which developed into her own sound which is unable to be contained within a single genre. That uniqueness echoes a common theme in Ruthie’s life and career – marching to the beat of her own drum.

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Joining the Navy was one way for Ruthie to stake out her own path. It was during her time singing for the Navy band Pride that her love for performing became apparent. After leaving the service, Ruthie signed a development deal with Atlantic Records and moved to New York City to pursue a career as a professional musician.

 

A deal with a major label would seem to be a dream come true for a budding artist, but the label favored Ruthie as a pop star. In another bold move, she walked away from the deal and returned to her roots, moving back to the Lone Star State.

Returning to Texas, Ruthie solidified her place as an up-and-coming singer/songwriter and began a musical partnership with Blue Corn Music, whom she has stood beside for all her releases over the past two decades.

Now comes Ruthie’s latest – Joy Comes Back – again on Blue Corn Music. When she recorded this album, Foster wasn’t merely singing about love and loss; she was splitting a household and custody of her 5-year-old daughter. Music was her therapy.

The comfort she felt within the studio gave her the strength to pour the heartache of her family’s fracture and the cautious hope of a new love into 10 incredible tracks, nine of which are by a diverse array of writers ranging from Mississippi John Hurt and Grace Pettis (daughter of renowned folk singer Pierce Pettis), to Chris Stapleton and Black Sabbath. It takes a true artist to make an outside song their own and, if you know Ruthie, you know she succeeds. The Recording Academy might want to put its engraver on notice. Every note on Joy Comes Back confirms this truth: It’s Ruthie’s time.

At one point, producer Daniel Barrett described the album to local hero Warren Hood, who lays fiddle and mandolin on “Richland Woman Blues,” as “some blues, some folk, some soul, some rock, some gospel.” Hood replied, “Sounds like Ruthie Foster music.”

From houses of worship to houses of blues, Ruthie Foster has always been a rafter-rattler. And with a soul-filled voice honed in Texas churches, she can move audiences to tears or ecstasy — sometimes in a single song. Her last three albums, 2009’s The Truth According to Ruthie Foster, 2012’s Let It Burn and her latest, 2014’s Promise of a Brand New Day, moved the Recording Academy to deliver Best Blues Album Grammy nominations.

 

For this effort, Foster put Meshell Ndegeocello in charge as her producer and then got out of the way, letting the lauded singer and bassist call the shots regarding players, takes, and mixing. “I wanted this album to highlight Ruthie’s voice and also communicate her vibe, give a fuller picture of her artistry and ability,” explains Ndegeocello. “She really trusted me with the music and I think we've made something that complements and holds its own alongside the power of her voice.”

 

Ndegeocello played bass and enlisted her regular guitarist Chris Bruce (Sheryl Crow) and keyboardist Jebin Bruni (Aimee Mann), plus drummer Ivan Edwards and backing vocalist Nayanna Holley. Foster did request two special guests: guitarist Doyle Bramhall II and singer Toshi Reagon.

 

“Meshell asked me, ‘Who’s at the top of your list?’” Foster recalls. Bramhall’s been there for a while, but her fellow Austinite can be hard to nail down because of his day job with Eric Clapton. Ndegeocello pulled it off. As for Reagon, daughter of Sweet Honey in the Rock founder Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon and godchild of Pete Seeger, Foster has known her for years. “It was so sweet and such a relief to finally put our names together on a project,” Foster says.

 

Promise of a Brand New Day includes seven songs written or co-written by Foster, most of them “songs with messages – because that’s important to what I do,” Foster explains. “Maybe that’s from growing up with people like Mavis [Staples] and a lot of strong women who have come before me, who are great singers but also have a message. They give you something; they say something.”

 

Foster descends from a line of strong women; while sitting in the courtyard of an Austin coffee shop, she notices grapevines climbing a fence and recalls picking Mustang grapes for her grandmother in tiny Gause, Texas, a church-filled town about 90 minutes northeast of Austin. Her family was full of gospel singers; to this day, when she gets nervous onstage (yes, she still does), she’ll reference her early influences, from “the sisters in the amen corner” to the music she fell in love with.

 

The Staple Singers’ “The Ghetto” is a centerpiece track, full of gentle electric guitar and a slow-build fire that gains intensity with each verse. “We sent an email to Mavis to check the words,” Foster says, “and she sent an email back that said, ‘Tell Miss Ruthie she picked a good one!’”

 

Classic influences can be felt elsewhere, including “Second Coming,” a civil-rights protest song in the folk-gospel tradition, with handclaps and a strummed acoustic guitar.

 “When you see me talk about my country life and picking Mustang grapes, and referencing people like Mississippi John Hurt and Jessie Mae Hemphill, that’s a way of grounding myself,” she says. “People connect to that, and that’s when the energy starts building, and then I can get to the big stuff and have some fun and wave my dreadlocks around.”

 

She draws on those roots for “New,” a gorgeous song written by and featuring Reagon. But unlike Foster’s last release, Promise of a Brand New Day is not covers-oriented, nor, lest one get the wrong impression, is it a gospel album.

 

“If anything, I stayed with that old-school soul feel,” Foster says. “Meshell wanted to make it a point for me to write more songs for this one, and I did too. I wasn’t sure I had that in me, but I did some diggin’.”

 

Of course, she had it in her. From the opener, “Singing the Blues,” in which she observes, “a bit of Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland never, never gets old,” to the a cappella “Brand New Day,” originally sung into her phone just before going onstage one night in an effort to fend off tour-induced loneliness, Foster delivers one powerful track after another. She’s even got a co-write with Stax great William Bell, “It Might Not Be Right,” which nods musically to the late soul-stirrer O.V. Wright, and addresses gay marriage. Not so long ago, it might have been about interracial couples.

 

“William had titles and grooves, and I had verses and ideas,” she says. “He’s great at coming up with these hooks, and it’s just a great title. ‘It might not be right for the world, but it’s all right with this girl.’”

 

Foster got even more personal on “Complicated Love,” a relationship ballad.

 

“It’s definitely goin’ deep, a lot deeper for me than I have gone on my previous records,” she says. It’s not necessarily about her, however. “I had a couple of friends around me who were just having a really difficult time. If I can’t use my own life, I go and borrow somebody else’s for about 3½ minutes,” she says with a laugh. Another friend’s relationship inspired “Learning to Fly,” a mid-tempo piano ballad with a pop feel and the elegant lyric, “Everybody knows the seed must die so the flower can grow.”

 

Foster says that one was among several songs she had that couldn’t seem to find a home before Ndegeocello latched onto them “and really worked some serious magic.”

 

It’s obvious, however, that Foster’s own magic will shine through regardless of who’s producing. Her Grammy-nominated albums were helmed by Chris Goldsmith, whose credits include Grammy-winning albums with Charlie Musselwhite and the Blind Boys of Alabama, and Grammy-winner John Chelew, producer of the album universally hailed as John Hiatt’s masterpiece, Bring the Family, among others. From 2011 to 2016 she earned six consecutive Blues Music Awards, plus an Austin Music Award for Best Female Vocalist and a Living Blues Critics’ Award for Female Blues Artist of the Year. And those are just some highlights of her awards history.

 

She’s also toured and recorded with Warren Haynes, traded verses with Susan Tedeschi on “The Weight” during the Allman Brothers’ 2012 Beacon Theater stretch; and sang on an episode of the TV series Revolution. She first delivered a gorgeous “Angel from Montgomery” with Bonnie Raitt at one of Wavy Gravy’s annual SEVA benefits; then repeated it with her on The Road to Austin, a loving all-star tribute to the now-late Stephen Bruton that made its documentary debut in the 2014 South By Southwest Film Festival.

 

Such accolades and appearances reinforce the fact that Foster’s a blues-world rarity: an original voice who honors her forebearers, yet transcends gentrification. If further proof is needed, the Eugene McDaniels-penned “Outlaw” should do it. The soul-sister celebration is, simply put, groovalicious. Or there’s her other ode to O.V. Wright, “My Kinda Lover.” Or “Let Me Know,” which, Foster confesses, she actually wrote for Marcia Ball, who never got a crack at it. Bramhall did, though; his guitar is all over the “blues-backboned” track, which Foster sings without backing vocals.

 

“Ruthie's voice is such a singular, powerful instrument, and she has such mastery of it,” Ndegeocello notes. “She can turn it on, belt it out and bring you to your knees, all in an instant.”

 

Amen, sister.