Ruthie Foster’s new album Healing Time represents a new high-water mark for the veteran blues artist. A collection of songs possessing pure power, like a tidal wave of musical generosity.
Healing Time finds Ruthie Foster pushing her boundaries as a singer and songwriter more than ever before, creating a truly live-sounding atmosphere with the help of her band, who sound refreshingly loose and lived-in throughout these 12 songs. With a sound that ignores demographic lines and a charisma that can ignite any audience, Foster emerges as an artist of all-encompassing appeal.
Healing Time is the latest jewel in Foster’s accomplished career, which includes multiple Grammy nominations and collaborations with fellow luminaries like Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. Work on the album began in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, as Foster enlisted previous collaborators like Gary Nicholson and Grace Pettis to pitch in during the writing process, as well as every member of her band.
Joining Foster and her band are members of Austin psych-soul outfit Black Pumas, whose Adrian Quesada lent time at his famed Electric Deluxe studio as work on Healing Time was being finished up. “They gave these songs a breath of fresh air,” she says about their contributions. And veteran producer Mark Howard (Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams) also came in to bring new ideas to Foster’s table.
From her beginnings in the Brazos Valley of Central Texas, she was launched by a strong mother and a large supportive family down a path whose pitfalls Ruthie learned to avoid and whose destination she charted on her own, with talent, faith and determination lighting her way. On her previous albums and gigs that have taken her from choir lofts to folk bistros and onto stages in Europe and Australia, Foster has raised the multiple flags of American music. There’s Southern blues in her groove, rock in her rhythm, a blend of gospel redemption, country poetry and jazz elegance in her singing. Truth be told, Foster could sing the phone book, jam on a laundry list, and send everyone home happy.
Even as a young girl, she was taking in a wide variety of music, whether through the hymns her mother taught her, the Beatles songs she analyzed in a book given by her guitar teacher, the 45s her truck-driving uncle would drop off during his visits, the old-school country she heard while watching various country variety shows with her grandfather, or the pop songs that crackled through the family radio. Before her debut at age 14 as a soloist in the choir her uncle conducted, Foster knew that her life would revolve around music. After moving to Waco to attend McClennan Community College, she mixed classes in music and audio engineering with visits to clubs at night, where the curriculum wasn’t based not on textbooks but on the power of performance. After a while she was fronting a blues band in biker bars and other venues from Dallas to San Antonio.
Foster immersed herself so deeply in music that eventually she decided she needed to step back and regain a little real-world perspective. “For years, all I did was eat, talk, dream and live about music. It got to the point that I wanted to find out if I could even hold a conversation about anything else,” she recalls, laughing. “But I was also curious about what was going on with the rest of the world. So I joined the Navy.”Even there, music tracked her down. At a Christmas party for her helicopter squadron, she couldn’t resist sitting in with the band to sing a few choruses of “Red House.” It was a short step from there to being signed up by Pride, a Navy ensemble that played the Top 40 and funk hits of the day at recruitment drives, mainly throughout the Southeastern states. “There were seven of us, and I was the only woman in the band,” she recalls. “That’s where I learned how to work and hold my own on the road, and that was huge for me too.”