Snagging Grammy nominations for Best Blues Album, Ruthie Foster's previous two LPs now pave the way for the Austinite's eighth effort, Promise of a Brand New Day, which should deliver the same accolade. While the powerhouse singer-songwriter's hallmark vocals, hovering emotively between low and gritty and smooth and soulful, remain the main attraction, the way her producers shade her versatility and harness that stunning voice define much of her sound the past decade. From Papi Mali's hippie-funk infusion on 2007's The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster to the Memphis R&B-backing of 2009's The Truth According To and Southern gospel surge of 2012's John Chelew-helmed Let It Burn, Foster threads through genres without losing her own signature soul. Enter the unexpected hand of the equally eclectic and emphatic Meshell Ndegeocello to produce Promise and craft Foster's most eclectic and direct effort. "Trying to write a new song, trying to find a rhythm that will help me," croons the singer on uptempo opener "Singin' the Blues," which drives down into the raw percussive chug of "Let Me Know" and stripped vocal showcase of "My Kinda Lover," accented by Doyle Bramhall II's guitar licks. If the outset of the LP re-establishes Foster's familiar range and dexterity, the heart of the LP emerges with purpose in the trembling gospel turn on the Staple Singers' "The Ghetto," easy blues ramble of "Outlaw," and progressive punch of fiery protest stomp "Second Coming" and stirring, William Bell co-write of marriage equality, "It Might Not Be Right," back-to-back. The second half of Brand New Day lifts up to the center's staring down, with the gently soaring "Learning to Fly" and determined a cappella title track, while "Complicated Love" wrings deeply personal for the songwriter. With Ndegeocello, Ruthie Foster finds her rhythm, and more importantly, an album steeped in purpose both personal and political.
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