After her thrilling appearance before the sad figure of BB King at a concert last year -- and I retract not a word of what I said here about King, he was woeful -- you'd hardly think Ruthie Foster needs any assistance.
She seemed to be quite some package: she had a voice which went from gospel and soul to blues and rock and reggae, could play driving and rhythmic guitar and wrote strong originals . . . and she had a great sense of humour.
So you'd think she wouldn't need any help on a new album, but here she is with the Blind Boys of Alabama on four songs (and the great soul singer William Bell on his classic You Don't Miss Your Water delivered over moody organ) and almost every song here is written by others.
But what "others" -- and this is a measure too of her smarts and skill too. She chooses Adele's Set Fire to the Rain; Black Keys' Everlasting Light; June Carter and Merle Kilgour's Ring of Fire; Robbie Robertson's It Makes No Difference, David Crosby's Long Time Gone . . .
And she has the Meters' George Porter Jnr on bass, the great Ike Stubblefield on Hammond, drummer Russell Batiste of the Funky Meters, steel guitarist Dave Easley and New Orleans tenor saxophonist James Rivers.
There's a lot of the gospel in Foster (the self-penned opener Welcome Home with the Blind Boys where she sounds little like Bonnie Raitt, her spiritual Lord Remember Me, The Titanic with the BBoys) but equally she can deliver soulful pop (Set Fire to the Rain, Aim for the Heart), blues balladry (the slow and much revised version of Ring of Fire), soulful blues (It Makes No Difference) and can invest herself in a lyric (John Martyn's Don't Want to Know).
Foster is a rare one. She even manages to reinvent the old Peter Seeger song If I Had a Hammer in such a way as you'll forget you ever knew Trini Lopez's version. And that smokey, bluesy sax helps too.
And right at the end she goes out with a funky'n'rockin' New Orleans treatment of her earlier Truth!
Ruthie Foster keeps the Lord close at hand and to heart, but she doesn't let the spirit get in the way of having a good time . . . in fact, it allows her to on the evidence here.
Like the sound of this? Then check out Billy Preston.
By Graham Reid, posted