After 25 years of delivering unmatched songwriting through soulful blues rooted in powerful gospel hymns, Ruthie Foster brings her experience full circle with her latest studio album, Ruthie Foster Big Band: Live at the Paramount. Accolades and Grammy nominations for her work with the blues unleashed her desire to share a lesser-known side of her talent. Her ninth album with Houston-based Blue Corn Music captures personal favorites from original collections and pays tribute to swing-era heroes with dynamic covers from career-influencing jazz musicians.
Having performed globally, often sharing the stage with renowned talent, the Paramount theatre appears to be just a number on her list of landmarks. However, stepping out onto the 105-year old stage of Austin’s grand-dame theater is a symbolic homecoming. Today, Ruthie Foster shares a timely original, “Joy Comes Back,” from her live album, set for release May 15.
Invited in by a section of ten horns, Foster opening lines float through swinging symphony of the keyboard, bass, drums. A trio of backup singers lifts her characteristically soaring vocals to new heights. Complete with a conductor, the entire album is backed by, as the title suggests, a big band.
Continuously reinventing her timeless sound, Foster took on the big band as a challenge. Since her days spent carefully studying the reel-to-reel tapes from Ella Fitzgerald and Nancy Wilson at the Naval School of Music, Foster fixated on how to domineer the sound of all that brass.
“I just thought it would be fun, too, because it was just so much fun to front a big band,” she confesses. “You can’t out-sing an 18-to-20-piece band.”
“Joy Comes Back,” was the title track of her last album. An ode to her musical roots, the sound is derived from the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, the small house of worship in Caldwell, Texas, where artistry first filled her soul. Focused on the silver-lining, the song faces forward but doesn’t ignore present challenges.
The closing message is one of hope, a promise for a brighter day: “Spirit gets low / spirit gets low sometimes / spirit gets low, Lord / But I’m gonna rise again / Cause I wanna be ready / I wanna be ready, I wanna be ready / When joy comes back again.”
“Every now and then, I’m reminded that rough times are just going to be part of life, but to not give up hope,” Foster shared of meaning. “This song reminds me to stay prepared for better times. ‘Set a place at the table’ for joy!”
Arranged by John Beasley (Miles Davis, Steely Dan, American Idol), the live performance kicks off with “Brand New Day,” one of Foster’s only instructions after handing him free reign. Foster placed this track intentionally, evoking a festive church-meeting vibe “with everybody coming in … the women with hats, everybody clapping,”
Beasley’s arrangments celebrate an under-exposed style. The Marcia Ball-inspired “Stone Love,” the bonafide blues of “Runaway Soul” and “Singin’ the Blues,” the ever-relevant “Phenomenal Woman,” and a Quincy-styled rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon,” converge to complete Foster’s most dynamic release yet.
“I loved Sinatra, the way he would handle a band like that,” she says. “It’s just a real art form. We need to put it out there in front of people so they realize it. And there’s a glamor behind it, too. I got a chance to wear a gown at the end of the night and be a sophisticated lady.”
Watch an exclusive premiere of Ruthie Foster’s live performance of “Joy Comes Back” from her ninth record, Ruthie Foster Big Band: Live at the Paramount due May 15.