Texas-based Ruthie Foster caused quite a stir last April when she opened for B.B. King at Auckland’s Civic Theatre, earning a standing ovation. Let It Burn is her first studio album since then. It finds Foster replacing her live band (drummer Samantha Banks, bass player Tanya Richardson) with seasoned New Orleans players like George Porter (bass) and Russell Batiste (drums) of The Funky Meters and Motown veteran Ike Stubblefield on keyboards. Also on board for several tunes are The Blind Boys Of Alabama.
While surrounding herself with such respected musicians may have looked good on paper, the actual results sound a bit tame.
The album begins with one of Ruthie’s few original tunes, Welcome Home. The Blind Boys are on hand to add their gospel harmonies to this own and Dave Easley adds some tasty slide guitar, but the track never quite builds up much steam.
Adele’s Set Fire To The Rain follows and is notable for Porter’s throbbing bass line, but the track doesn’t really offer anything different to Adele’s version. The same can be said for Los Lobos’ This Time, The Band’s It Makes No Difference and William Bell’s Stax classic You Don’t Miss Your Water…even though Bell is there trading verses with Foster.
More successful is Ruthie’s reading of The Black Keys’ Everlasting Light and her dreamy, seductive version of John Martyn’s Don’t Want To Know.
A slow, jazzy version of Ring Of Fire is different but ultimately doesn’t quite cut it. Interestingly, Foster and The Blind Boys reading of David Crosby’s Long Time Gone does manage to kicks up a little dust, as does the album’s closer, an acappella version of The Titanic, sung again, with The Blind Boys.
Despite the presence of Porter and Batiste, the album doesn’t really have a New Orleans flavour to it. Instead we get an uneven collection of covers and a couple of originals. As such, Let It Burn merely simmers.
Click here to listen to Ruthie Foster’s version of The Black Keys’ Everlasting Light from Let It Burn: