In the hands of some jazz, soul and blues vocalists—Cassandra Wilson and Bettye LaVette among them—classic-rock tunes are becoming the new standards. On her terrific new album, singer-songwriter Ruthie Foster brings her signature blend of folk, blues, soul and gospel to the party.
But she has help. Producer John Chelew has been behind the boards for albums by Richard Thompson, Charlie Musselwhite, Paul Weller and June Tabor, not to mention John Hiatt's Bring the Family. Also on hand are bassist George Porter Jr., tenor saxophonist James Rivers and organist Ike Stubblefield, among others.
Covers dominate over originals. Rich, earthy funk abounds on material by the Black Keys, John Martyn and Los Lobos. Foster's restraint on her quiet-storm interpretation of "Ring of Fire" may make some listeners pause, and she brings a torchy sensuality to both Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain" and The Band's "It Makes No Difference." The Blind Boys of Alabama sit in to provide tectonic gospel harmonies on four tunes, most notably a robust reading of CSN's "Long Time Gone."
Pete Seeger's "If I Had a Hammer" gets a 1970s-style soul-jazz treatment, thanks to the smoky sax-playing of Rivers. Perhaps the album's biggest score is having Memphis soul legend William Bell sing with Foster on his immortal tune "You Don't Miss Your Water."