From the very first guitar notes of Ruthie Foster’s exuberantly joyous new album, Healing Time, to the quietly meditative, almost melancholic, final strains, we’re lifted up, exalted, transformed. Foster’s capacious vocals soar into the stratosphere at one moment and descend slowly and tenderly into warm, delicate tones at another.
The album’s opening track, “Soul Searching,” is a classic soul stew that carries us immediately to another plane via Foster’s towering vocals; the ethereal background vocals of Sheree Smith, Angela Miller, and Tamara Mack; and the crunchy Memphis guitars of Anders Osborne and Michael Chaves. By the time the song ends, we’re moved and transformed, and we wonder how Foster can lift us even higher.
Foster’s vocals shimmer brightly on the atmospheric “Lie Your Way to the Truth,” with ringing reverberations about the often shadowy side of human relationships. The sultry, down-to-the-bone “What Kind of Fool” spirals higher and higher along Johnny Moeller’s scalding lead guitar runs, while the gospel-inflected “I Was Called” delivers soul-stirring testimony of moving from the lowest depths to the most exalted highs. On this one song alone, Foster moves through every emotional register with astonishing vocal control, using vibrato to evoke the shivers that accompany an experience of encountering a power outside of oneself.
The joyous title track slides and shakes, riding along Robert Randolph’s pedal steel and Foster’s exuberant vocals. By the time the song’s finished, we’re healed indeed of whatever has been ailing us. Sonny Landreth’s piercing slide guitar slithers through the upbeat soul shaker “Finish Line,” a song that welcomes back a lover or friend despite their wanderings — “When you finish running and you’ve made up your mind/I’ll be waiting at the finish line.” The album closes with quietly graceful “4AM,” an ode to the darkness and the transformative moments it contains.
Every song on Healing Time dwells in its own majesty and beauty, and some of them — such as “Soul Searching” — are simply unforgettable, playing in our souls long after the last notes fade. Healing Time showcases Foster’s extraordinary abilities as a songwriter and singer, and her ability to dwell in these songs and climb their emotional registers in her phrasing and control touches us deeply.
Ruthie Foster’s Healing Time is out Nov. 18 via Blue Corn Music.