Ruthie Foster’s Folk Roots

CD: Let It Burn by Ruthie Foster – Foster is a young singer from here in Texas where I live who over the last decade has been an amazing voice in search of, if not dire need of, an album that matches her instrument.

Let It Burn may not be quite the masterpiece her deeply soulful singing is capable of, but it sure is damn close.

Due credit goes to producer John Chelew, who launched John Hiatt to prominence in 1987 with Bring The Family (I did publicity for Hiatt on the tour that followed that album).

Foster selects classics as old and monumental as “If I Had A Hammer” and “Ring of Fire,” selections from such contemporary masters as Los Lobos and The Black Keys, fine and unexpected choices like David Crosby’s “Long Time Gone” and “Don’t Want to Know” by my favorite unsung musical genius John Martyn.

The New Orleans backing band creates masterful backing tracks, and gospel greats the Blind Boys of Alabama beautifully echo Foster’s singing with their vocal support. Foster has yet to learn how to truly inhabit a song and make it her own on two of my top tunes of all time, the soul chestnut “You Don’t Miss Your Water” (on which Foster duets with composer William Bell) and The Band’s “It Makes No Difference.”

Any more casual listener will be mightily impressed with Foster and this album and quite possibly find a new favorite singer and CD.

Book: The 900 Days by Harrison E. Salisbury – There are some books one must read before you die (and, alas, hardly the time in life to do so, which was a heartbreaking realization to me when I grokked to that fact in my early teens). This rich and comprehensive tale of the siege of Leningrad by the Nazis written by master historian Salisbury is one of them.

Called “worthy to stand by War and Peace,” it is long and dense, yet the story and its telling are so compelling that it is hard to put down, even if the events that unfolded in the city during its time cut off from the rest of the USSR are not easy going, and at times utterly horrifying.

When published in 1969, this book spent eight months on the bestsellers list. I wonder if it would still do so in today’s culture, but nonetheless, it’s a timeless classic and a must read if you can find the time.

TV show: Criminal Minds – I was led to this popular CBS series by my initial disappointment with its offshoot Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, which I expressed following its debut in this column a while back. Something kept me watching it and it did get better, though some episodes work far more than others. The same can be said of its parent series.

After watching previous seasons in syndication as well as new episodes, such aspects as its ensemble nature and focus on profiling of serial killers can make for fairly good TV viewing at the show’s best, and even acceptable when it (and Suspect Behavior as well) don’t quite hit the mark.

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2012


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