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album review | FOLK BLUES

Ruthie Foster, ‘Let It Burn’

“Let It Burn’’ marks the first time in her career that Ruthie Foster has laid down her guitar to focus her efforts entirely on her singing. She has some fearsome accompaniment in doing so: the Blind Boys of Alabama, soul legend William Bell, members of the Funky Meters, and Hammond B3 jockey extraordinaire Ike Stubblefield. The church is never far from Foster’s vocals, and even though the predominant sound here is a blues shot through with organ and echoing slide guitar, she seems closer to gospel than ever, especially on the tracks that feature the combined vocal power of the Blind Boys (the a cappella take on “The Titanic’’ is a particular highlight). “Let It Burn’’ also stands out for its eclectic batch of covers (including songs by Adele, the Black Keys, John Martyn, and Crosby, Stills & Nash) and for the distinctive treatment Foster brings to them; on a reworking of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire’’ that turns his frenzied recounting into an almost dreamlike reflection and a rendition of “If I Had a Hammer’’ that slows that folk standard down to a stately soul ballad, distinctive approaches transformative. (Out now)

ESSENTIAL “Ring of Fire’’

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