Ruthie Foster

There's plenty of life left in Foster's Runaway Soul.

If music that sounds as if it were naturally fermented from the bayous, cricks and back porches of rural America is what you seek, then look no further than Ruthie Foster's Runaway Soul. Save a spot for this disc by the Bryan-College Station resident on the year-end list of stellar local recordings. As the opening line of the title track suggests, Foster's soul has found a happy home, and the listener is invited to come on over and try out Grampa's wooden rocker.

Foster is equally comfortable singing gutsy gospel, folk or don't-mess-with-Mama R&B. With her percussionist/backup vocalist/manager/ life partner Cyd Cassone by her side, she brings sensitivity, grit and sanctity to traditional arrangements. Indeed, the Sunday revival meeting feel of "Woke Up This Mornin'" and the haunting cotton-field lament of "Death Came a-Knockin'" spill over into the duo's writing collaborations and Foster's own songs. With ubiquitous session guitarist Lloyd Maines (who also produced the album) and bassist Glenn Fukunaga rounding out the studio band, plus a guest appearance from Terri Hendrix, it's a given that the performances are spare, understated and yet authoritative.

Foster grew up in Gause, a tiny Brazos Valley hamlet northwest of Bryan, and spent four years playing in a U.S. Navy band in the late 1980s before tasting the high life in New York in 1990. Atlantic was grooming her as the next Tracy Chapman, but Foster maintains that she simply couldn't think straight in NYC. She gave up her Atlantic deal and came home three years later.

That realization -- that she's a small-town girl at heart -- is exemplified by the stripped-down "Home," in which she encapsulates small-town Texas in the form of her recently deceased father's truck: "Betcha Daddy's old Ford is still sittin' by the ol' pecan tree / she's gotta lotta miles and there ain't much left but her class…Daddy's gone now but it means a lot to me / Taking the rusty for a ride when the world gets too fast."

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