Ruthie Foster: The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster 

At first glance, a title like The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster would seem a bit conceited, which could be disastrous in front of a critical public. Early on, I couldn't help but feel this way about the album. It wasn't until after multiple listenings (in particular, to the song "Phenomenal Woman") that I became convinced Foster may have intended the album title to bear a symbolic message, but one that listeners will have to decipher for themselves.

Foster is a blues artist from Texas. Her sound is slightly darker and more soulful than one might typically associate with Texas. A blues purist would likely find fault in labeling this record as straight blues. Perhaps a more accurate representation would be pop-soul saturated in blues. From a pop music fan looking for something slightly off the mainstream path to a bluesman stretching in the opposite direction, there's something for virtually anyone on this record.

One of the weaker aspects of Foster's fifth album is its lack of substantial originality. Fewer than half the of songs on The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster are written by her, and though her style is exciting and easy to listen to, it would be hard to say she's made more than a notch in a genre already flooded with musical artists. The groove-driven blues-rock tune "Heal Yourself" is one of Foster's originals, and is undoubtedly a staple for the record. The opening track "'Cuz I'm Here" features her affinity for a soulful ballad sound that is dominant throughout the album. She also ventures into a raw blues sound with songs like "Beaver Creek Blues," not to mention a cover of the Son House classic "People Grinnin' in Your Face."

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