Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., July 23, 2004
Ruthie FosterStages (Blue Corn)
Ruthie Foster's 2002 release, Runaway Soul, was an unexpected and undeniable success. It introduced the San Marcos-based singer-songwriter to an international audience that was surprised to discover it wasn't her first collection of material. After its release, Foster toured nonstop, overwhelming audiences with her vocal ability and a sweet combination of blues, gospel, and folk at every stop, which means a live album makes a lot of sense at this point in her career. Stages is a definitive compilation of Foster's stage set, cobbled from performances at the venerable folk clubs Passim in Boston (with her partner Cyd Cassone), Anderson Fair in Houston (with a band), and here in Austin at St. David's Episcopal Church (with Will Taylor's Strings Attached). Covered is a remarkable range of styles, each one inhabited with a rare amount of grace and soul. Naturally, there are crowd pleasers from Runaway Soul like "Walk On" and "Ocean of Tears," but Foster branches out with a jazzy rendition of "God Bless the Child" and a reggaefied original, "Real Love," which interpolates Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster" to good effect. She veers a little too close to singer-songwriter self-absorption with the atmospheric "Get Out of My Way," yet as a whole, Stages captures Foster's ability to raise passions in a crowd with an uplifting message, and there's nothing here her fans will tire of anytime soon.