Promise of a Brand New Day
4 out of 5 stars
The title of singer/sometime songwriter Ruthie Foster’s ninth studio album implies a break from her impressive past. But Promise of a Brand New Day is actually a consolidation of the various musical genres that have always been and remain a part of Foster’s eclectic yet distinctive style. There’s a fair share of blues (“Singing the Blues”), gospel (a rugged version of the Staple Singers’ “The Ghetto”), country soul (“Outlaw”), R&B (“Second Coming”) and soaring pop (“Learning to Fly”). But, as she sang on the title track of her 2001 release, “it all comes back full circle.”
As usual, Foster expertly weaves these various strands into a cohesive tapestry of American music. Certainly her soul infused vocals are the focal point of that (as on her last album, she abandons guitar chores to concentrate on singing), but veteran producer/bassist Meshell Ndegeocello keeps a firm grasp on the disc’s flow and overall sound. Whether it’s the moving a cappella of the title track, or the sunshine soul of the vibrant, finger popping “My Kinda’ Lover” or the sweet swampy William Bell co-write “It Might Not be Right,” the set stays anchored on Foster’s emotional but never affected singing.
Foster pushes herself to write seven of the dozen tunes with the widescreen “Learning How to Fly,” the kind of anthemic ballad that could finally put her across to the larger audience she has deserved since her 1999 debut. Her voice is as convincing on those kinds of sweeping tunes as on the grittier selections such as the churchy, chugging blues “Let Me Know” that features guest guitar from Doyle Bramhall II. There’s a significant, throbbing Memphis groove to “Believe” with its Hi studio styled tom-tom heavy approach and a 60’s protest folk vibe to her version of the civil rights nugget “Second Coming.”
Promise of a Brand New Day, despite its name, may not be that much of a departure for existing Ruthie Foster fans. But it’s another remarkably strong and mature entry in a sturdy body of work that hasn’t shown any missteps yet. Those new to her talents can start here and work backwards, wondering why Foster remains on the fringes of the American music scene instead of a star attraction. Maybe that’s the “brand new day” this disc’s title promises.