Ruthie Foster – Let it Burn (review)

Ruthie Foster – Let it Burn (Blue Corn Music) review

Let it Burn is a landmark album for Ruthie Foster.  It marks the point where she’s totally shed her folk roots and transitioned into an artist to be reckoned with.  Any performer can do cover songs, but it’s the rare artist that can take other people’s songs and breathe new life into them.  With her new album, Foster has created a sound that’s warm, soulful, and bluesy, yet never shop-worn.  The list of cover material is incredibly diverse – she draws influence from just about anywhere.

She’s got guts enough to tackle a cut by Grammy-darling Adele in her rendition of “Set Fire to the Rain.”  Yet, Foster tones things down a little, replacing some of Adele’s bombast with a simmering passion.  Her true genius shines in what she does to Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” – replacing the mariachi horns with a sighing guitar, slowing the tempo way down, placing much more emphasis on June Carter’s original lyrics.  Another surprise is how she retools David Crosby’s hippie anthem “Long Time Gone” for modern times, adding Hammond organ and a slithery bass, making the song groove in ways it never did before.  And, she even reinvents the Pete Seeger folk nugget “If I Had a Hammer” with a slow tempo, fat bass and a honking sax.

Her own compositions are just as diverse – the disc opens with “Welcome Home,” featuring help from the Blind Boys of Alabama – the whole song lacks any verses – it’s just a chorus chanted over and over.  “Lord Remember Me,” also featuring the Blind Boys, starts like an old gospel spiritual with just vocals, before morphing into a slow blues.  And for all the down-and-out blues songs about relationships, “Aim For the Heart” is refreshing in its positive outlook.

Despite the diverse source material, Let it Burn is a very cohesive album.  Foster holds it all together with her soulful delivery and tasty accompaniment from her band.  We’ll be looking for bigger and better things to come for Ruthie Foster.  –Tony Peters