There were a lot of refreshing surprises at Ruthie Foster’s fantastic concert Friday night at the Egg’s Swyer Theater.
For starters, it was a trio of women pushing out jammin’ blues and soul. That alone was refreshing enough.
All Texans, they worked over every song, with no guitar or sax solos, just Foster’s muscular voice singing — hollerin’ — through the tunes, usually using words, but not always. But you didn’t really care what she was singing about.
After performing Lucinda Williams’ “Fruits of My Labor” — who knew that folk tune had blues bones holding it up? — drummer Samantha Banks put down her sticks to clap and shout a few “whoo hoos,’ enjoying it as much as the audience.
They followed with a smooth “Welcome Home,” then morphed into U2’s “One.” Foster managed to find the gospel inside the DNA of this one.
With bassist Tanya Richardson carrying the bottom end and Foster strumming an acoustic guitar, the sound was more than full and probably could have used less during the more folksy moments.
The concept was not unlike the Robert Cray Band, which performed the night before at the Egg’s Hart Theater, except Cray was like smooth jazz compared to Foster’s raw approach.
She attacked David Crosby’s “Long Time Gone,” though this seemed a bit speedy, certainly faster than Crosby Stills and Nash’s rendition. It was still plenty cool though, and then it turned awesome. The group hit everything with such feeling and inertia that it all worked. Foster screamed when that song was over, “Man that felt good.”
After another tune, she said, “I don’t know about you, but I felt that one. When a song feels good, you gotta go with it.”
“Aim for the Heart,” a song she wrote with “Bonnie Raitt in mind,” had a funky feel, with an eye toward radio play. While good, it was probably the weakest of the night, though the crowd didn’t think so.
Calling Adele “a sister from another mister,” Foster covered “Set Fire to the Rain,” which she sings on her most recent album, “Let it Burn.”
Recently nominated for a Grammy — she has been nominated previously — Foster did like to name drop, noting that she played a recent “blues cruise” with Taj Mahal and the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, then talked about the fun she had touring with Warren Haynes, to name a few.
She also talked a little about growing up in Texas and how she was introduced to her musical influences.
“There were a lot of voices. ... Mom loved Sam Cooke the most, he was her favorite, and it was my favorite because that’s all I heard in the house,” she recalled.
A few songs later, she said she “grew up with a lot of country, too,” from her grandfather, and talked a little about him sitting in the front yard under an oak tree. She followed with “Ring of Fire,” also from her latest, which she sang like a Raitt ballad.
The three sang a moving a capella tune called “Titanic,” which they approached like a work song from the early 1900s.
The show was part of the Egg’s American Roots and Branches Series. These are special shows, gems that need support, because they do not fit into today’s commercial packages. These acts come to the region — a non-major media market — partly because of the venues, but because the region has deep-rooted fans.