Ruthie Foster’s ninth studio album 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 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. We’ve all been in need of some healing in recent times, and Foster’s latest provides a guide for how to move through the world with equal parts compassion and resolve.
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. For her latest, Foster contributed more to the writing process than she had on any of her previous albums, effectively refining her own songcraft in the process. “With this album, I dug deep and tried to go for the best way to write,” she explains. “This album says a lot about the period we were making it in, and how I wanted to find my way out of it.”
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. “I wanted my band involved in the entire process of this album,” she explains, and they also played a large role in recreating the sound that Foster had become drawn to after spending time with her vinyl collection. “I was aiming to keep these songs sounding like they came from that era, which says a lot about where I am in my life, too.”
Veteran producer Mark Howard (Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams) came in to bring new ideas to Foster’s table as recording began at Studio 71 West in Austin, TX, New Orleans’ famed Esplanade Studios, and Blue Rock Studio in Wimberley, TX. “Mark’s ability to turn a song's arrangement upside down was intriguing and sometimes challenging for me,” she states. “It was a lot to wrap my head around, but he made me think outside of the box I didn’t even know I was in.”
Producer Dan Barrett, who also worked with Foster on 2017’s Joy Comes Back, then took the helm at Black Pumas co-bandleader Adrian Quesada’s famed Electric Deluxe studio in Austin. Along with several Black Pumas members, Barrett brought in a collection of Austin’s finest backing musicians, like Glenn Fukunaga (The Chicks, Shawn Colvin). “With Dan onboard we were able to find the glue to these songs sonically, and he brilliantly melded my familiar Texas blues-Americana sound with what Mark pulled out of me in New Orleans,” Foster says. “This combination gave these songs a breath of fresh air, and it all came together very organically.”
Healing Time’s title – as well as its burst-of-sunshine title track, which features pedal steel legend Robert Randolph – is a reference not only to the trials many have faced over the last several years, but also the necessity of what Foster does as an artist. “I hear fans tell me that the music we make is very spiritually healing,” she says. “The experience of dealing with my own grief after losing a band member a year before the pandemic while navigating around zoom school with my daughter and trying to figure out what to do with myself was tough but necessary. When I look at it as a whole it was all very healing for me which is pretty much how I try to live my life. There’s always time for healing, if you give it time.”
And Healing Time is ultimately a work that explores such extremes as being human often brings to the surface, reminding listeners that even when we feel like we’re at the top, we’re ultimately still finding our way – a beautiful reflection of the essence of living itself.