This has been a good year for Bonnie Raitt.
Last month, she was presented with the Icon Award at the Billboard Women in Music event.
This month, during the Grammy Awards, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
This month also saw her Grammy Award-winning 1989 album, Nick of Time album, inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, one of only 25 recordings to be so honoured.
And now, to top it off, Raitt has just released her first album in six years to critical acclaim.
And that acclaim is more than justified.
Just Like That… finds Raitt very much at the top of her game, still ringing the heart and soul out of every song she wraps her pipes around, whether it’s a groove-driven blues tune, a prime chunk of funk, a gritty rocker, a soulful ballad or something else she has chosen to serve up. Virtually everything seems to find a home in her wheelhouse.
The new record, the title of which comes from a line in one of her original songs that goes “Just like that your life can change”, features four Raitt originals and several songs that she has had a desire to record for some years.
Included in the latter cluster are Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart by NRBQ’s Al Anderson, Toots and the Maytals’ Love So Strong and Made Up Mind by Winnipeg’s The Bros. Landreth.
In a cruel twist of fate, Raitt had planned to record Love So Strong as a duet with her dear friend, Toots Hibbert, but the reggae giant died in 2020. She included the track here as a tribute to him.
Of the original songs, Living for the Ones, was co-written with her longtime guitarist George Marinelli. It has been described as a rocking dedication to the friends and family she has lost in recent years.
My favourite track, Made Up Mind, is a bluesy funk tune about the devil on Recovery’s shoulder. It has been described as equal parts Mose Allison, Eddie Harris and 1970s funk and the description fits.
Two of the original songs came out of real-life scenarios.
Down the Hall, a truly gorgeous piece, was inspired by a New York Times story about a prison hospice program, while the album’s title track was sparked by a news segment about two families deeply impacted on both sides of an organ donation. The power of writing about the life-changing personal experiences of others resonates deeply with Raitt.
“I’ve always loved the early guitar songs of Dylan, Jackson Browne, Paul Brady and especially John Prine,” she says. “With songs like Angel from Montgomery and Donald and Lydia, John was able to just climb inside and sing these people’s deepest lives. With his passing last year, finishing these songs has meant even more.”
Just Like That… was recorded last summer in Sausalito, Calif., with a top-drawer lineup of musicians that included two veteran members of Raitt’s band – bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson and drummer Ricky Fataar – as well as two new musicians – Canadian Glenn Patscha on keyboards and backing vocals and Nashville guitarist Kenny Greenberg. George Marinelli, Raitt’s frequent guitarist/songwriting partner, also joined in, playing and singing on Livin for the Ones.
- Bonnie Raitt and her band have just hit the road for an eight-month U.S. tour.
- On the first leg of the tour, her special guests were NRBQ.
- Other guests lined up to join her include Lucinda Williams and longtime friend, Mavis Staples. The full tour schedule can be found at www.bonnieraitt.com.
- Known almost as well for her lifelong commitment to social activism as she is for her music, Raitt has long been involved with the environmental movement, performing concerts around oil, nuclear power, mining, water and forest protection since the mid-’70s.
- She was a founding member of MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) which produced the historic concerts, album and movie NO NUKES and continues to work on safe energy issues in addition to environmental protection, social justice and human rights, as well as a creator’s rights and music education.
Raitt once again served as producer, reuniting for the third time with her favourite recording and mixing engineer, Ryan Freeland. Both earned Grammy Awards for Raitt’s 2012 album, Slipstream
Fifty years into her career, Raitt shows she’s still the same creative and adventurous soul who likes to mix things up.
“On this record, I wanted to stretch,” Raitt says. “I always want to find songs that excite me, and what’s different this time is that I’ve tried some styles and topics I haven’t touched on before.”
Just Like That… should be a contender for album of the year.
Doug Gallant is a freelance writer and well-known connoisseur of a wide variety of music. His On Track column will appear in The Guardian every second Thursday. To comment on what he has to say or to offer suggestions for future reviews, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.