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Ruthie Foster - Let It Burn

Blue Corn Music

13 tracks/53:06

At some point in their career, most musicians reach the point where they want to branch out and try new things, head in different directions. Taking a new path always runs the risk of alienating part of your established fan base. But if a musician is going to continue to grow artistically, they have to challenge themselves and their listeners instead of turning out the same type of record again and again.

Ruthie Foster uses her latest release to try out a new format. She opts to lay down her guitar and focus on her vocals. Instead of using her regular road band, she headed for New Orleans and the famous Piety Street Studios, enlisting the help of some of the city's best musicians. The backing band includes George Porter Jr. on bass, drummer Russell Batiste, Dave Easley on guitars and James Rivers on saxophone. Ike Stubblefield handles the keyboards and makes a number of stunning contributions on the Hammond B3 organ. Foster also elects to concentrate on a collection of material that spans a number of musical genres that, surprisingly, lacks much of any blues content.

Several tracks highlight the strong gospel element that has always been a part of Foster's music. With the Blind Boys of Alabama behind her, her original “Welcome Home” opens the disc with some marvelous harmony singing. Even better is another original, “Lord Remember Me”, with Easley's slide guitar creating an other-worldly atmosphere. Foster's voice rings out on David Crosby's “Long Time Gone”, featuring a strong bass line from Porter Jr.. The final collaboration with the Blind Boys is a highlight as Foster convincingly tells the familiar tale of the sinking of “The Titanic”.

William Bell joins Foster for a smoldering duet on his classic song, “You Don't Miss Your Water”. Rivers adds to the heat with his sax solo while Stubblefield lends a jazz touch on organ by quoting the theme from Miles Davis' “So What”. Another highlight is the Black Keys “Everlasting Light” as Stubblefield's organ steadily pushes Foster until she finally unleashes the full weight and power of her voice. Stubblefield takes center stage again as his organ playing dominates the arrangement on “This Time”, from the Los Lobos songbook.

Foster transforms “Ring of Fire” into a light pop ballad that is a far cry from the raw emotion of Johnny Cash's original. And even though Foster once again sings with passion, one could argue that world doesn't need another version of “If I Had a Hammer”. But Foster shows she can handle contemporary rock on her cover of Adele's “Set Fire to the Rain”, her magnificent voice easily giving voice to the range of emotions captured in the lyrics. Robbie Robertson's “It Makes No Difference” is another highlight, the arrangement steadily building around Stubblefield's superb work on the Hammond organ and Foster's vibrant vocal.

Anyone who has experienced Ruthie Foster live on stage knows that she has a voice that can raise the rafters one minute, then be sassy and sensual the next. There are a few of those moments on Let It Burn. On the rest on the disc, listeners will get to hear Foster stretching out in new directions. It will be interesting to see where she goes from here. In the meantime, enjoy one of the finest singers around today.

Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.

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