There aren’t too many musicians, male or female, who made it into Rolling Stone‘s list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”, and “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. Indeed, the former was overwhelmingly male, the latter included only two women, Joni Mitchell (discuss), and Bonnie Raitt.
Raitt deserves the tsunami of accolades that have come her way, including 10 album- and performance-related Grammys, and another for Lifetime Achievement. She is a singular figure in what is still, after so many decades, a man’s world. (Janis Ian is another phenomenal guitarist whose contribution remains shamefully under-acknowledged.) Just Like That… is her first album in six years and her 21st in a recording career that began in 1971 with her eponymous debut. She was a slow burn, under-appreciated for a decade, pissed on by record companies, until Nick of Time (1989), a US number one which scooped up a mighty handful of awards.
The title comes from one of four original songs, an acknowledgment that “all of a sudden, everything shifted”, and the album is dedicated to the many Raitt has lost these past couple of years, among them John Prine, with whom she has often toured, Art Neville, Dr John, and her nephew Miles. “Love So Strong” is a tribute to Toots and the Maytals’ Toots Hibbert. Another original, “Livin’ for the Ones”, sums up our predicament:
I don’t think we’ll get back how we use to No use in tryin’ to measure the loss We better start gettin’ used to it And damn the cost
Like all Raitt’s albums, this one gets under your skin. It’s the texture of her voice, its grain. Soulful, bluesy; notes bent as if on her trusty old Fender. The influence of the great bluesmen – whom she revered and often played with, notably at Newport in the early 1960s, as black musicians finally began to take centre-stage during the folk revival from which Raitt herself emerged, a Radcliffe student playing the clubs of Harvard Square, as Joan Baez and so many had before her – is everywhere evident, in her singing and her masterful playing. She is, after all, the woman BB King called “best damn slide player working today”.
“Down the Hall”, another original, drawn from the pages of the New York Times, is the album’s closing track, a song of heartbreaking but understated humanity. My favourite cut, the song I keep coming back to, the one that’s lodged firmly in my mind’s ear, is “Just Like That”. Raitt plays an acoustic guitar, in open D tuning, as Kenny Greenberg plays electric while Glenn Patscha wails and swirls on the Hammond as the song unfolds with the most profound of stories.
An essential purchase.