Ruthie Foster, Let It Burn. There are moments in a musical life where the only move that makes sense is to go to New Orleans. It's the city where, really, rock and roll was full-born, an illegitimate child of jump blues and boogie woogie beats as laid down on Roy Brown's "Good Rockin' Tonight." There is something in the air, in the water, and most definitely in the feet of all who live in the city that care forgot which supplies an inspirational joy to just breathing.
Texas singer Ruthie Foster was born to go there. She is someone who has dipped her toes in the mighty Mississippi, and always comes up with heart-bursting ways of wrapping an incredibly powerful voice around a song. On her new release, producer John Chelew—forever known as the man who brought to life John Hiatt's Bring the Family album—gathers a bone-rattling band, a fistful of righteous material, and a free-living attitude to shape a modern landmark. People will be listening to this music until man can no longer hear.
How's this for a list of songwriters: Los Lobos, Adele, John Martyn, David Crosby, The Band, Pete Seeger, William Bell and the Black Keys? And that's just for starters. Foster also contributes a few originals, and enlists Bell and the Blind Boys of Alabama to join in on vocals. These are sounds destined to set you free. There are moments on a stunningly sultry version of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" that threaten to melt the speakers, and serve notice there's a new woman in town. She sings like her life depends on it, writes with a golden pen, and performs as if there's no tomorrow. Her name is Ruthie Foster, and she is her mother's daughter.
Duane Eddy, Road Trip. The Terror of Twang takes his guitar down a bit different road on this trip, and for those with an open heart and inquisitive mind the rewards are endless. Eddy's guitar has all the force it ever did, which means it's power-packed and loaded to go. He has a way with reverb that borders on the celestial, and this time around jumps into an atmospheric abyss that has no bottom. Aided by an able batch of Brits and beginning with the song "The Attack of the Duck-Billed Platypus," Eddy carves out huge sonic slabs in the sky. It's amazing what six strings can do.
There is probably a story to be told about the making of this album, since it's been years since Duane Eddy has surfaced. The gorgeous color photographs in the booklet are an impressionistic travelogue, something like Robert Frank might have taken if he'd ever done a book called The British. They go along perfect with the music, and hopefully someday we'll find out what brought it all on.
For now Duane Eddy, the man of Have Guitar Will Travel fame, has returned with a flourish. English soul brother Richard Hawley lends a strong hand, co-writing four songs and co-producing the whole album, and if that's any tip know that Hawley specializes in a highly charged style of memoiristic music with a voice filled full of king-sized tears. In so many ways, he is the perfect partner to Eddy. Together they take the spirit into the clouds and leave it there. Right where it belongs.
Tony Rice, The Bill Monroe Collection. There aren't many bluegrass guitarists who can walk taller than Tony Rice. He jumped into the music young, when his father took him to see Bill Monroe in California. Something got inside Rice that would not stop, and it was only a matter of time before a guitar found its way into the young boy's hands. Once that happened, bluegrass had a new star in Tony Rice. Then when he started singing, history was getting ready to be made.
For fans of this music, these 14 songs will feel like a love letter from a long lost friend. Tony Rice's ability to take the guitar to places it's never been in bluegrass exists in a party of one. There isn't anyone else who can do it. Not only that, there are certain listeners who swear Rice also has the purest voice ever, leading Ricky Skaggs to say, "This guy is the best singer I've ever heard." Those words don't come cheap.
It's not always easy taking on an icon, as Bill Monroe most assuredly is, and not wilting in that light. Tony Rice doesn't flinch an inch. Whether it's on "I'm on My Way Back to the Old Home," "Gold Rush," "On and On" or "Cheyenne," there is such passionate playing and uplifting singing on these versions that it is beyond contagious. Monroe himself feels like he is present, and that is about as great a compliment as could ever be paid. Both men get to put their name in the big book of music for lives well spent and songs well done. Rejoice we can.