Ruthie Foster Joy Comes Back

Ruthie Foster Joy Comes Back
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If Joy Comes Back, the latest album by veteran folk-blues performer Ruthie Foster, was an old school cassette tape, it would probably be left in your tape player on Side B, and suffer from being constantly rewound rather than played through. The first half of the album is almost offensively bland, like coffee chain background music on downers. It features two fairly insipid songs by Grace Pettis, who also plays rhythm guitar on the album, and "Open Sky," a middling Foster original, plus a few other forgettable tracks.
 
But at the halfway point, it all changes, and in an in-your-face way: acoustic guitar-playing, folk-festival mainstay Foster covers Black Sabbath. Her unexpected but delightful cover of "War Pigs" marks an enormous improvement in the material. Her version is soulful and blistering, and a pointed reminder of just how much of an unpaid debt English hard rock and metal owes to African-American blueswomen.
 
It's followed by two more excellently chosen covers: Foster slows down and mellows out for the Ivy Jo Hunter/Stevie Wonder classic, "Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever," and returns solidly to her roots for a virtuoso version of Mississippi John Hurt's "Richland Woman Blues." The rest of the album is less spectacular, but still solid, Foster's singing and her excellent band finally getting their proper setting.
 
So Joy Comes Back might be on your shopping list, especially if you're already a Ruthie Foster fan, but take this advice: It's only half a great album, so keep it on the B side. (Blue Corn Music)