By any measure, Ruthie Foster is on a roll. Her previous three albums—2009’s breakthrough opus The Truth According to Ruthie Foster, 2012’s Let It Burn, and Promise of a Brand New Day from 2014—all earned GRAMMY nominations for Best Blues Album. And that’s in addition to a string of accolades that includes three consecutive Blues Awards, an Austin Music Award for Best Female Vocalist and a Living Blues Artist of the Year Award for meritorious achievement.
With all that wind in her sails, Foster could have easily set the controls for autopilot on her latest album, the aptly-titled Joy Comes Back. Instead, the 53-year-old artist seems intent on growing her fan base and making soulful sounds that yield a common bond.
A string of touching ballads—“What Are You Listening To?,” “Forgiven,” “Open Sky,” and “Good Sailor”—is joined by an effusive take on the Stevie Wonder-penned Motown chestnut “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” fully vetted through Foster’s stirring vocal. And while a gospel gem like the title track seems a natural segue, her take on Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” rendered with an assertive stomp, makes for a bold move. It’s further evidence of Foster’s prowess when it comes to breaking through boundaries, those either real or imagined.
Appropriately then, an all star assemblage aids in her quest: guitarist Derek Trucks, bassist Willie Weeks and fiddler Warren Hood (whose prominent role on the jaunty “Richland Woman Blues” gives it a down home flavor). But it’s Foster’s prowess that clearly holds sway. Little wonder than that the snarling “Working Woman” (“kicking ass and taking names”) best exemplifies her drive. Like Bonnie Raitt and Delbert McClinton, two other artists who push against the notion of being defined solely as “blues artists,” Foster deserves more than to be relegated to any particular niche. An artist well suited to take center stage, Ruthie Foster has more fully and forcibly arrived.