Album of the week : Slipstream - Bonnie Raitt

Over the course of the 40-plus years of her career, Bonnie Raitt has never resorted to gimmickry. What she does best is deliver great music steeped in the blues, roots music and rock tradition. In addition to her brassy and bright voice, she’s a remarkable slide guitarist  and a bold interpreter of songs by the top songwriting talents of the day. So after a seven-year hiatus from recording, it’s a welcome return for Raitt, who on Slipstream, sounds deeply refreshed, newly inspired and confidently relaxed. She also sounds reflective — based in no small part from a period of grieving after the deaths of both her parents, her brother and a best friend. All of this results in Raitt’s strongest outing since her 1989 commercial breakthrough, the multi-platinum, Grammy Album of the Year winner Nick of Time

It takes Bonnie Raitt less than a minute into her new album before she belts out these lyrics: “Now you’re mystified / Standing with the rest of us / Who used to rule the world.” It’s a not-so-subtle declaration that before big-voiced singers like Kelly Clarkson and Pink, there was Raitt

In  Slipstream, Raitt gives us her own, somewhat bemused, perspective on love and/or aging, as if to address what happens when all those good things that arrived just in the nick of time disappear just as fatefully

In the album-opening  ‘Used to Rule the World’, a bevy of has-beens consider their diminished place in the state of things and wonder where their status went. If it sounds tragic in theory, the Steely Dan-like funk rhythms and Raitt’s playful slide guitar make it clear there’s something at least a little funny about human outrage at the natural order of diminishing returns. It may not rule the Grammys, but once again, Raitt has come up with an anthem for a generation

Somewhat of a narrative, the country-tinged ‘Marriage Made in Hollywood’ examines a well-known star’s free fall (literally) into the disgrace of a “media grave”

The first single from the album is a fine reggae-inflected rendition of ex-Stealers Wheel singer Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 hit ‘Right Down the Line’

Three of the songs were written or co-written by Al Anderson, who has reigned supreme in Nashville as a songwriter for nearly two decades. The Anderson tunes include the gorgeously penitent break up “with a guilty heart and troubled mind” slow song ‘Not Cause I Wanted To‘, and two rockers, the chugging and cooking ‘Ain’t Gonna Let You Go’ and the rollicking ‘Spilt Decision‘. Raitt stretches many of the tunes brilliantly with slippery and stinging slide breaks, a testament to her guitar brilliance

Slipstream was instigated by sessions with Joe Henry, who produced four tunes on the album, including a pair of ’90s-era Bob Dylan compositions: the gently loping ‘Million Miles’, featuring Raitt’s silvery slide and an equally pleasing break by guest guitarist Bill Frisell, and a slow muse through ‘Standing in the Doorway’. Henry contributed two compositions, the heartfelt, ruminative, show-stopping beauty, ‘God Only Knows’and the plaintive ‘You Can’t Fail Me Now’ which features Raitt’s beautiful soulful voice

Don Was is no longer behind the boards, and there are no John Hiatt songs, but you’ll definitely hear echoes of their influence in  ‘Down to You’, ‘Ain’t Gonna Let You Go’, and the superior ‘Split Decision’

Despite the lighter moments - Raitt isn’t about to give up being America’s slippery-guitar-necked good-time gal, nor should she - but it’s the more rueful stuff that sticks. The nine-time Grammy winner never overreaches with her voice and smartly lets the music breathe throughout. She sounds less interested in turning back the clock than she does with sharing the wisdom she’s gathered in a career that’s lasted more than four decades

Buy it here

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April 20, 2012

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