It’s the rare artist capable of creating a body of work that transcends genre. True, Ruthie Foster has been recipient of many, many awards in the blues idiom. Foster has won Blues Music Awards in all but two years between 2010 and 2021 (In 2020 Foster was a presenter.) She’s a three-time Grammy nominee and has been nominated for several Living Blues Awards.
To the uninitiated, all of those accolades might well suggest that Ruthie Foster has “found her lane,” so to speak, and that her music fits neatly into the blues category. The truth is far more nuanced and rewarding. As exemplified on her 12th and latest album, Healing Time, Foster’s music is rooted in the blues tradition, but extends so far beyond its confines as to make genre distinctions meaningless.
“Soul Searching” has subtle instrumental nods to The Staple Singers, and it’s pleasantly reminiscent of early ‘70s Carole King. “Lie Your Way to the Truth” has hints of windswept, spaghetti western soundtrack music. “What Kind of Fool” is soaring, sweeping soul. “I Was Called” is stirring gospel; the robed chorus singers will be vivid in the listener’s mind.
There’s an unmistakable devotional undercurrent to the music on Healing Time, but it’s all presented in a way that doesn’t require the listener to subscribe to any particular set of spiritual beliefs. And in keeping with the astounding variety that characterizes the album, Foster shifts effortlessly between styles. “Don’t Want to Give Up on You” is a love song, plain and simple. Its rock-solid soul/r&b groove shines brightly.
The album’s title track is a supercharged, upbeat extravaganza. The jubilant quality of the song is positively contagious, a thrilling track in the tradition of Aretha Franklin. The airy “For You” shifts gears yet again, this time in the direction of sleek and soulful r&b. “Love is the Answer” offers more inspiring lyrical messages, with swoon-worthy backing vocal work and some tasty chromatic harmonica that channels young Stevie Wonder.
Keening slide guitar adorns “Finish Line,” a tune with sterling pop values. And as its title suggests, the album closer “4am” is a quiet, contemplative piece that invites the listener to reflect on the positivity that marks the uplifting album as a whole.
The CD’s liner notes helpfully list the personnel involved, but if a powerful magnifying glass isn’t handy, most listeners will find the 3-point type completely inscrutable. Suffice to say that while Foster doesn’t need to enlist the talents of some of music’s top players (Robert Randolph and Sonny Landreth, to name two), their presence on Healing Time is wholly consistent with its emphasis on heartfelt quality.
The sparkling production values of every track on Healing Time highlight the sublime quality of Foster’s voice. The arrangements are finely-tuned and multi-layered, yet the individual sonic elements never call attention to themselves. Everything is placed in the mix in service to the overall goal of showcasing the songwriting and vocal work of this superb artist.