Ruthie Foster’s music has always been infused with elements from her surroundings.
Growing up in Texas, Foster gained a background in gospel music thanks to her family. A tour of duty in the U.S. Navy Band strengthened her musical chops. Later, she moved to New York City and became a regular on the folk circuit, and after a failed deal with Atlantic Records, she returned to Austin, Texas, in 1993 to take care of her ailing mother.
Now, she is taking inspiration from New Orleans, where she recorded her seventh studio album, “Let it Burn,” released this year. Foster utilized local musicians during the album’s recording, including Meters bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Russell Batiste, bringing a New Orleans jazz flair to the album’s rhythms.
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany
How Much: $24
More Info: 473-1845, www.theegg.org
“There’s no mistaking that New Orleans feel that they brought to the rhythm, for sure,” Foster said recently from her home in Austin. “And Ike [Stubblefield], who played B3, spends a lot of time in New Orleans too, so it was really cool to be able to get him in on the rhythm section.”
There are other changes on the album — for the first time, Foster didn’t play any instruments during the recording, freeing her up to focus entirely on her vocal performance. And the songs themselves are mostly covers, ranging from classics like Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” to more modern fare like Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain.”
“I think all the records I’ve put out have been different in some way,” Foster said. “To me, I always want to grow and bring a different element with what I do, whether it’s on stage, or definitely what I record. I think bringing in a lot more covers kind of presents me more as a, I guess — I wanted to present myself more as a song stylist. I just want to change the song, make the song my own, and I think it’s been really well received.”
She will be playing plenty of guitar, though, when she leads her stripped-down trio at The Egg on Friday night. Her band, featuring bassist Tanya Richardson and drummer Samantha Banks, is closing out the year with a series of weekend dates, including a festival gig last weekend in Florida.
The simple setup is ideal for the covers from “Let it Burn” that Foster has been tackling live.
“I think it brings the song — it brings the attention, the focus back to the song,” she said. “That’s really my intention for the tunes. These are classic songs in my opinion — ‘Ring of Fire,’ The Band’s ‘Makes No Difference,’ Pete Seeger’s ‘If I Had a Hammer’ — these are great, great tunes from songwriters, not just great entertainers.
“In bringing the songs back, stripping them down to just the song, it kind of introduces the song to hopefully different people that like different genres, that are more into soul, sultry soul. ‘Ring of Fire’ does that; even ‘Hammer’ does that — it brings the song into the soul side, the soul feel.”
Foster is no stranger to reinterpreting songs — all of her previous albums have included covers, though not as many as there are on “Let it Burn.” But “Let it Burn’s” more modern material was something new — the Adele song and a track from garagey blues rockers The Black Keys, “Everlasting Light,” were both suggested by her producer, John Chelew.
“I love Adele, and he knew that, so he asked if I wanted to try to do one,” Foster said. “One of the few we picked off, she actually released the same year — we took a chance thinking it would probably end up being a B-side, and didn’t know she was going to release it later that Christmas [season]. And The Black Keys, I just discovered these guys — I had come through Austin and my friend was going to go see them, so I was checking them out. This song was really, really fun, because we ended up just kind of going in a totally different direction towards the end — we brought in the Hallelujah Chorus for the end of ‘Everlasting Light.’ ”
Other guests on the album included gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama, who Foster first toured with in 2009 prior to the release of her previous album, the Grammy-nominated “The Truth According to Ruthie Foster.”
“Let it Burn” does include two originals — “Aim For My Heart,” which she’d originally written for Bonnie Raitt, and album opener “Welcome Home.” She’s hoping to cut back on touring next year to work on more original material for her next album.
“I like to have time, if anything, because that’s when I can gather my energy to just be able to be creative,” Foster said. “I hadn’t had a lot of that before this last CD, so I’m trying to hopefully decrease my touring a little bit so I have time to sit and be creative. That’s the first part — the other is taking advantage when I’m presented with opportunities to do any kind of co-writing.”