Eclectic singer Ruthie Foster kicks off the year with Sheldon gig, a blues cruise and a big-band project

Eclectic singer Ruthie Foster kicks off the year with Sheldon gig, a blues cruise and a big-band project

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Ruthie Foster

When Ruthie Foster was readying her most recent album, “Joy Comes Back” (2017), she’d hit a rough patch in her life. A long relationship was coming to an end, and she was dealing with sharing custody of a child.

At the same time, a new relationship was budding, and the album reflects a sense of both hard-won wisdom and optimism. It’s right there in the title.

The album is all cover songs, with the exception of one original. Musically, it ranges from blues, gospel and R&B to Americana and even a left-field hard-rock selection: Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.”

“I wasn’t in a writing place,” Foster says of the time leading up to the album’s production. “When it came time to actually record something, I chose to pick songs that I wish I had written myself.”

Foster’s music has always been an eclectic mix of styles, but she’s most often been acknowledged by the blues community, having garnered eight Blues Music Awards and three Grammy nominations for best blues album.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, but Foster understands why that is the case.

“The blues is all-encompassing when it comes to the general realm of what I do,” she says. “Blues is a part of most of what I do — a huge percent of it.”

Foster grew up in rural Gause, Texas, in a family that embraced both gospel and blues music.

“I was one of the few black gospel singers that played all of the white churches, along with the black churches, in the area,” she says.

Both of her parents were blues fans, too, however.

“My mother was great about loving gospel music, but she was really out front when it came to her experience with blues music,” Foster says. “She met my dad when they went to go see blues bands in east Texas, and she used to talk about how they would always catch Ike and Tina Turner when they came to town. So it was really about my mother sharing her experience with this music that really got me into it as well.”

After college, Foster joined the Navy and sang in the Navy band, which added rock to her musical palette. After her stint in the service, she moved to New York, where she sang in folk clubs, stretching her talents even further.

Now a veteran recording artist for more than 20 years, Foster has put herself up for another challenge. Her next project, which has already been recorded and is being prepared for release, is a big-band album recorded at Austin’s Paramount Theatre.

“We’re just finishing up the final mixes on that, along with the video,” she says. “We had it all filmed, so that’s been a pretty big project at the start of the year here. Hopefully, it’ll be out by April.”

Foster says that, along with all the other kinds of music she was soaking up in her early years, big band, too, was part of the mix.

“I was listening to big band on top of the blues,” she says. “And of course, you’ve got folks like T-Bone Walker, which is blues with a big-band sound. And the Navy band was a big band, too.

Of the project, she says with a laugh, “it was a real treat for me to get a chance to get out front and get all gussied up and just really do it.”

Foster is kicking off her year with a gig at the Sheldon, which will feature her regular band, followed by the weeklong Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise in the Caribbean alongside artists including Taj Mahal, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Tab Benoit.

Besides getting to go someplace warm, Foster says such cruises “are like visiting my family again — my blues family. A lot of these folks, the minute they get off of one cruise, they sign up for the next one. I run into my cruisers all over the world.”

She’s also looking to get back to recording some new original material and has already written a number of songs. And she’s looking forward to hitting the road and playing some live dates.

“For me, that energy of playing live, there’s no substitute for that,” Foster says. “It is like medicine for me. I’m journaling every day, and that was something I put in my journal this morning. I need that kind of energy, that kind of contact in order to soothe me. Meeting fans at the CD table and hearing their stories — that’s what goes back into my system, and I can do something with that and put it back on paper and put it back out again, you know? That’s just how that works.”

What Ruthie Foster • When 8 p.m. Friday • Where Sheldon Concert Hall & Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard • How much $30-$40 • More info 314-533-9900;

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