Music has always been a part of Ruthie Foster’s life. The singer/songwriter from Gause, Texas comes from a family of gospel singers and by the time she was 14, she was a soloist in her hometown choir. She attended community college in Waco, Texas, studying music and audio engineering and began fronting a blues band. Foster joined the Navy and sang in the naval band; after her service, she moved to New York, where she performed at folk venues around the city. She was offered a recording deal to sing pop music, but she wanted to perform the music of her youth. Throughout her storied career, Ruthie Foster has remained true to her roots.
Now she has released her ninth studio album, Healing Time, which represents a new high-water mark for the veteran blues artist. It is the latest jewel in that accomplished career, which includes multiple Grammy nominations and collaborations with the likes of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. 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. For this album, Foster contributed more to the writing process than she had on any of her previous albums, refining her songcraft in the process.
“With this album, I dug deep and tried to go for the best way to write,” she said. “This album says a lot about the period we were making it in and how I wanted to find my way out of it.” That period, of course, was COVID. Work began on the album in 2020 and Foster enlisted collaborators like Gary Nicholson and Grace Pettis, as well as her band members, to pitch in during the writing process and recreate the sound Foster had become drawn to after spending time with her vinyl collection, “I wanted my band involved in the entire process of this album,” she said. “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 came to the recording studio in Texas and New Orleans and brought a new perspective. “Mark’s ability to turn a song’s arrangement upside down was intriguing and sometimes challenging for me,” Foster said. “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.”
When producer Dan Barrett took the helm, he brought in a collection of Austin’s finest backing musicians. “With Dan on board, 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 said. “This combination gave these songs a breath of fresh air and it all came together very organically.”
Healing Time refers not only to what so many faced in the last few years but to the necessity of what Foster does as an artist. “I hear fans tell me that the music we make is very spiritually healing,” she said. “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 is always time for healing, if you give it time.”