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Bonnie Raitt - The Pageant - St Louis, MO - October 8, 2005 © ElBoz

Bonnie Raitt sings more than just blues.

on February 9, 2006 No comments

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Judith Salkin – Special to The Desert Sun
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Unlike some of her flashier contemporaries, Bonnie Raitt has been a bit quieter about building her reputation and career.

And if over the years her voice has mellowed, her spirit certainly hasn’t. On her latest release, Souls Alike, Raitt takes on the songs of under-discovered songwriters to put out a collection that showcases both her guitar work and voice.
She returns to Fantasy Springs Resort Casino for a show on Sunday, Feb. 12.

“I’m so heartened that they asked me back,” she says from a pay phone in the Bay Area. Her cell phone had just died, so she was stationary doing interviews from the land line.

“Last year we had a sold-out house of 3,400, and I’m thrilled they asked me back so quickly.”

Since her debut album (Bonnie Raitt, Warner Bros., 1971), Raitt has built a solid body of work that includes 17 albums, thousands of live appearances over the years and at least 100 guest appearances on other performers’ discs. In a time when most rockers from the 1970s rely on rehashing 30-year-old tunes, Raitt still pursues new material. Although she’s known as one of the premiere blues artists of the country, there’s a lot more to her repertoire than what she learned from John Lee Hooker or B.B. King.

What album would she suggest for someone wanting a well-rounded sampling of her music? “Road Tested or one of my other compilation albums,” she says. “That’s always a good place to start.”

Raitt started on her career playing coffee houses in Cambridge, Mass., while she was attending Harvard. She left school in her third year to pursue a music career.

“I told my dad ‘I can always go back,'” she says.

Dad was Broadway star John Raitt, who by the 1980s would joke that he was Bonnie Raitt’s dad.

She calls herself “a child of my times,” and loved music from an early age.
“I remember when I was 6 or 7, I loved Elvis and Fats Domino,” she recalls.

By her teens in the 1960s, she’d wrapped her head around the folk revival music of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger and its marriage to the Civil Rights Movement that was shaking up the country.

By the late ’60s – around ’69, she recalls – she got a gig at an off-campus coffee house.

“I wasn’t perfect,” she says of her early performances.

One thing that set her apart was her interest in the blues. Raitt was given her first guitar by her mother, Marge Goddard, for Christmas when she was 8.

Over the years, she’s become one of the best -known slide and bottleneck guitar players, inspired by the Blues at Newport 1963 album. She took full advantage of her early years of touring and opening for the blues greats like Mississippi Fred McDowell, Muddy Waters and Hooker.

Even if her parents were dismayed she chose a career over college, “I was very lucky to have parents who believed in me.”

While some may have expected this daughter of a Broadway singer to follow in his footsteps, “that just wasn’t my music,” she says.

As she found fame, Raitt’s also continued in the best tradition of folkies – social activism. Like Baez, Seeger and Jackson Browne, Raitt believes she has a responsibility to lend her voice to causes such as nuclear disarmament and saving old-growth forests.

“There are so many, many people who give back that I look up to,” she says.

Even though she could use her microphone to espouse her own causes, Raitt sees her responsibility to lead by example, away from the concert stage.

“If people can see me (supporting various causes), maybe they’ll be inspired to fight for what they believe in,” she says quietly.

When she performed here last year, it was just a week after her father’s death. While she continued on her tour at the time, she gained strength she says from the sympathy cards and e-mails she received at the time.
“I learned so much about him and how he touched so many people’s lives,’ she says. “I’m very proud to be his daughter.”

Souls Alike, released in September, shows Raitt’s depth as a performer. Her voice, always emotionally evocative, sounds like smooth, like a well-warmed brandy on some tunes and playful on others. And out of the pile of hundreds of demos tapes, she found tunes by little-known songwriters.

“Each record is different and on this one, I wanted to find some songwriters I hadn’t worked with before,” she says. The songs she chose are refreshing, and fun to listen to.

She’s been on the road support the disc since last fall and will continues to tour at least through early summer. And then there’s the VH1 Bonnie Raitt and Friends, including guests Norah Jones, Keb Mo’, Alison Krauss and Ben Harper airs this week (9 p.m. Feb. 10, 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. Feb. 11, 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Feb. 12 and 13, 2 p.m. and 2 a.m. 2 a.m. and 2 p.m. Feb. 15 according to Raitt’s Web site, bonnieraitt.com) on VH1 Classic channel.

After her tour, there are still places Raitt wants to see. “I’d love to go to Bahia, Brazil and back to Africa,” she says. “I’ve never toured Eastern Europe. And I’d love to play places like Estonia. There’s still so much to do. Man, this is a great job.”

Bonnie by the numbers
17 — albums
8 – Grammy wins
4 — Appearances on Saturday Night Live
3 — Appearances on David Letterman’s shows (both Late Night and The Late Show)
3 — Appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
2000 — Year inducted into Rock Hall of Fame
4 — Ranking on VH1’s 100 Greatest Women of Rock ’n’ Roll
— Compiled from All Music Guide at www.allmusic.com

Guest appearances
Over the years, Bonnie Raitt has lent her guitar and/or vocal skills to friends and contemporaries’ albums. Highlights include:
** For Everyman (Jackson Browne, 1973): vocals
** In The Pocket (James Taylor, 1976); vocals
** One For The Road (Willie Nelson and Leon Russell, 1979): slide guitar
** Sun City: Artists United Against Apartheid (1985): performer
** Heartbreak (Don Johnson, 1986): composer, guitar
** Black and White Night Live (Roy Orbison and Friends, 1989): vocals
** Air America (Soundtrack, 1990): performer
** Duets (Elton John, 1993); Vocals, slide guitar
** Fender 50th Anniversary Guitar Legends (1996); Vocals, guitar, performer
** Heavenly (Ladysmith Black Mambazo, 1993); bottleneck guitar
** Playing with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues (Tony Bennett, 2001); Vocals
** Richarland Woman Blues (Maria Muldaur, 2001); Vocals, slide guitar
** Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon (2004); Vocals, slide guitar
— Compiled from All Music Guide at www.allmusic.com

Raitt on record
** Bonnie Raitt (Warner Bros., debut album, 1971)
** Home Plate (Warner Bros., 1975)
** Nine Lives (Warner Bros., 1986)
** Nick of Time (Capitol, 1989; 4 Grammys)
** The Bonnie Raitt Collection (Warner Bros., 1990)
** Luck of the Draw (Capitol, 1991)
** Road Tested (Digital Souns, 1995)
** Bonnie Raitt: The Essentials (WEA International, 2005)
** Souls Alike (Capitol, 2005)
— Compiled from All Music Guide at www.allmusic.com

Souls Alike Mini Review

On “Souls Alike,” Bonnie Raitt shows her versatility both as a guitarist and vocalist.

There’s a mellowness in Raitt’s vocals — maybe it’s the aging process or perhaps just the choice of material — that makes this disc easy to listen to. Not that the material isn’t vocally or musically challenging, but it fits her like a glove.

That’s interesting because Raitt chose to go with songs by writers who aren’t that well known.

There’s the opening “I Will Not Be Broken,” (Gordon Kennedy/Wayne Kirkpatrick/Tommy Sims) an anthem to the resilience of the soul, no matter what tests it. “God Was In the Water” (Randall Bramblett/Davis Causey) gets back to Raitt’s bluesy roots, while “Trinkets” (Emory Joseph) is a look back at childhood through the child left in each of us.

If you think Raitt is simply a blues or roots music singer, this is one album (other than her compilation discs) that will dissuade you of that idea. She is an accomplished musician in the prime of her talent.

— Review by Judith Salkin

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