Live at the Paramount
Blue Corn Music
A Big Band and a Big Sound That’s Full of Blues, Soul and More.
Recorded in January 2019 at Austin’s Paramount Theatre, this album bears witness to Ruthie Foster’s “Big Band” sound.
Introduced by her daughter, opener “Brand New Day” puts her big voice to the fore – drawing on the tradition of traditional work and gospel songs, Ms Foster draws a powerful soulful sound sans band in the first half of the song, before punctuating the vocals with ever increasing instrumentation. “Might Not Be Right,” which follows is a co-write with William Bell and is fine late night Southern Soul that juxtaposes the state of the world with the state of “this girl” and her love.
The first cover of the album is Ruthie’s take on “Ring of Fire” but as she herself says in introduction – “This isn’t your grandfather’s ‘Ring of Fire’”. Lyrics apart, everything is deconstructed – melody and delivery are completely reinvented to get to the dark essence of the song; even the opportunity to use the ubiquitous horn riff with the big band is spurned to create something anew and well worth seeking out.
“Stone Love” which follows, starts with jazzy piano before transforming into a rambunctious late Motown shouter and judging by the audience response was a deserved crowd-pleaser.
“The Ghetto” strips the sound back to largely guitar and vocal, which again pushes Ms Foster’s powerful use of soulful dynamics within a song and helps to affirm the hopeful (but tautologous) message that “there won’t be no more ghetto for me”.
“Death Came a Knockin’ (Travellin’ shoes)” continues the journey through traditional forms and launches into ferocious gospel territory, with its use of an acapella opening, call and response and insistent brass, along with a lovely bit of distorted psychedelic guitar wig out.
“Singing the blues” which follows – after prolonged applause – isn’t the old Guy Mitchell chestnut, but the fact that it name-checks Bobby “Blue” Bland will give some idea of the classic R & B stylings contained within.
“Runaway Soul” ups the tempo again with walking bass; and to these ears is a fuller sounding “Dust my Broom” with a fine ascending saxophone solo that dips in and out and calls and responds with the lead vocal.
“Woke Up this Morning” (technical note) actually starts quietly (on this review copy) at the end of track 9 before getting a whole track to itself – at the point where the full band sound kicks in on the song; shifts of tone, rhythm and instrumentation help to build around the simple lyric.
“Joy Comes Back” continues the redemptive gospel, whereas “Phenomenal Woman” is grounded in more personal sentiments and is a proud celebration of womanhood fittingly done in an Aretha style.
The final two encore tracks “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Mack the Knife” take the listener into Sinatra-esque territory – the big band even evokes Nelson Riddle arrangements on the former and the final track pays homage to Ella Fitzgerald in both its introduction and delivery.
The album ends with a long fade and thanks to the band and bookends the show. Often with live albums, there is a disconnect between the “I was there” experience and the recording, but here a fine effort has been made with thoughtful sequencing and a well-separated, loud mix to give every player their due.
Review by Nick Barber
Released May 15th 2020