Releasing more than 20 albums during one’s career is an extraordinary feat in itself. But to do so with the spirit and virtuosity of Bonnie Raitt is another thing entirely. The beloved singer-songwriter and guitar slinger has racked up accolade upon accolade as her discography has unfolded over the past five-plus decades. She’s become one of blues and roots music’s most respected and decorated artists in the process. On her 21st LP Just Like That…, released in April — that count of 21 includes her two live albums, because they are no mere stopgaps — Raitt shows no sign of slowing down.
Just Like That… follows Raitt’s 2016 album Dig in Deep, a widely acclaimed record that, among other recognition, notched Raitt an Artist of the Year nomination at that year’s Americana Music Honors and Awards. Raitt’s 2012 album Slipstream, Dig in Deep and Just Like That… were all released via her own Redwing Records label, which she launched a decade ago.
Playing May 26 and 27 at the Ryman
Raitt recorded Just Like That… last summer in Sausalito, Calif., producing the album herself alongside recording and mixing engineer Ryan Freeland. Her studio band was a mix of longtime collaborators and new blood, including veteran bandmates James “Hutch” Hutchinson on bass and Ricky Fataar on drums. Relative newcomers Kenny Greenberg and Glenn Patscha joined the group on guitar and keys, respectively, while Raitt’s old friend George Marinelli lent guitar work to “Livin’ for the Ones.”
While most of Just Like That… is made up of covers, Raitt wrote four new songs for the outing. Highlights of Raitt’s original material include “Down the Hall,” based on a true story of a prison hospice program originally reported in The New York Times, and “Livin’ for the Ones,” which takes stock of the loved ones and collaborators Raitt has lost over the years with a mix of honest vulnerability and reverent homage. Raitt also pays tribute to those she lost in the album’s liner notes, including Toots Hibbert, John Prine and Allen Toussaint. “Down the Hall” in particular is a striking reminder that Raitt is a powerful lyricist, as the track takes the perspective of an inmate witnessing the last days of patients in the prison’s hospice ward.
Vocally, Raitt sounds as strong — if not stronger — as she did on landmarks of her catalog like “Angel From Montgomery” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” her naturally soulful voice bringing edge and gravitas to the album’s more serious moments. “Down the Hall,” for example, finds Raitt exploring a somber register as acoustic guitar and organ gently mingle beneath her voice. She can still rock and wail with the best of them, though, as heard on the achingly bluesy “Blame It on Me” and the arena-ready “Livin’ for the Ones.”
Raitt’s guitar chops are as fine as ever too, and on full display across the LP. Opening track “Made Up Mind,” written and first recorded by Canadian country-rock outfit The Bros. Landreth, serves up tasty slide licks atop soulful vocal harmonies and a groovy beat. “Blame It on Me” showcases Raitt’s understated rhythmic prowess, with a few bendy, bluesy flourishes for good measure. The title track allows space for Raitt’s more melodic playing, and “Waitin’ for You to Blow,” another of the LP’s Raitt originals, is a delightful mix of funky jazz chords, rapid-fire legato runs and creatively employed octaves.
Releasing music isn’t all that Raitt’s been up to in 2022. In March, Billboard honored her as part of its annual Women in Music event, presenting her with the Icon Award. In April, Raitt received the Grammys’ Lifetime Achievement Award, the Recording Academy’s highest honor and one that has in the past gone to such artists as Tina Turner and Emmylou Harris. That same month, her 1989 album Nick of Time, which brought Raitt her first true commercial success, was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
Raitt is currently on a lengthy tour in support of Just Like That…, which stops for back-to-back nights at the Ryman on Thursday and Friday. The array of guests joining her on various dates include Marc Cohn and Mavis Staples, as well as NRBQ, whose “Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart” appears in grooving form on Raitt’s new album. Another icon, Lucinda Williams, will share the stage with Raitt in Nashville.
With an extensive catalog — stacked deep with both chart hits and fan favorites — to draw from, and a stellar live band to bring those songs to life, Raitt’s Ryman shows are sure to be live highlights of this year. Half a century into her dynamic career, she’s reached a status most musicians dream of but few ever reach: a living legend, still deep in her prime.