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Album ReCue – Bonnie Raitt: 1971

on March 1, 2021 No comments
by Laura Fedele

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Leading up to WFUV’s 1971 Throwback Thursday on March 25 — dedicated to albums celebrating their 50th anniversary this year — all month on “Album ReCue” we’ll be taking a deep dive into some of the ’71 releases that mean the most to our weekday FUV hosts. Above, an archive of Alisa Ali‘s conversation with Corny O’Connell about his selection, Bonnie Raitt‘s self-titled 1971 debut album, and below, Laura Fedele‘s overview of that release. 

Back before the 10 Grammy awards and the guitar-god accolades, Bonnie Raitt was a California kid from a musical family who couldn’t wait to grow up and join the activist Greenwich Village folk scene. Once she got there, after her college years in Cambridge, her natural singing style and skill with the slide guitar quickly separated her from the pack, and she scored a major label deal before she was 21.

She chose her signature instrument over the folky acoustic because of the sustain, Raitt says: “the electric guitar, for me, has the raunch and the beauty that more openly reflects the range of emotions I want to get when I’m singing and playing.” Plus, it made it easy to sit in with a wide variety of players and styles: “It doesn’t matter whether you know all the chords if you know your way around with a slide.”

That easy way with a jam is already in full form on her debut album, Bonnie Raitt, recorded in live sessions at an empty Minnesota summer camp. A collection of eclectic old favorites and a couple of her own tunes, each song starts out in a new direction — a rolling blues, a lilting ballad — then each one builds in its own way to a rollicking peak. You can feel the camaraderie of the band members as they move in and out of the music, like party guests gliding through the kitchen, with Raitt at the center, driving it all forward.

Stephen Stills’s “Bluebird” kicks it off, in country-blues style, Raitt’s voice gently soaring over a harmonic vocal chorus. Her own “Thank You” is the first we hear of a future career of sweet and sultry ballads, and her “Finest Lovin’ Man” gets a honky-tonk vibe from blues legend Junior Wells on the harp, pushing the rhythm forward with every breath.

Raitt’s career has embraced the sounds of rock, Americana and R&B over the years, but her love for the classics never wavers. WFUV morning host Corny O’Connell says, “Bonnie Raitt really got to me on an emotional level on her debut album through her truly authentic interpretation of the blues. She’s renowned for her slide guitar, but it was her laid-back, unaffected singing on standards like ‘Since I Fell for You’ that sealed the deal.”

Her compadres at the camp included a few who’d become longtime collaborators (like Freebo on bass and A.C. Reed on sax), plus Raitt chose two classic Sippie Wallace songs for the album (“Women Be Wise” and “Mighty Tight Woman,” both driven here by John Beach’s New Orleans-style piano), creating a bond that led to them recording and touring together through the ’70s and ’80s.

But the longest relationship in Raitt’s career started even further back than her debut: The first woman with a signature Fender guitar line, her customized Stratocaster (“Brownie”) has been with her for every gig since 1969.

This “Album ReCue” series is part of our 50-year look back at the albums of 1971, including Traffic, Isaac Hayes, and Carly Simon. We’ve also taken a look at Bonnie Raitt’s 1989 Nick of Time album, and at her career as an FUV Essential artist.

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WFUV’s Album ReCue: Bonnie Raitt’s Bonnie Raitt


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30 Years of ‘Nick of Time’: How Bonnie Raitt’s ‘Underdog Record’ Swept the Grammys & Saved Her Career

on March 21, 2019 No comments
by Natalie Weiner
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Before Nick of Time became perhaps the biggest Cinderella story in Grammy history — as well as the cement to Bonnie Raitt’s now-unshakeable legacy as a singular song interpreter and advocate for the blues tradition, and the soundtrack to so many ‘90s babies’ childhoods — it was a last-ditch effort to salvage the career of a cult-favorite artist who had just hit rock bottom.

“Nobody expected it to sell well,” Raitt says now. “They just said, ‘We’re not going to pay a lot of money for you, so just make a record that you want.’”

The record she wanted, as it turned out, was an understated, beautiful expression of both personal and artistic self-assurance. Nick of Time’s stripped-down but polished sound wasn’t revolutionary to her fans, who’d long appreciated Raitt’s combination of remarkable musical talent and no-nonsense attitude. But to mainstream listeners, her ability to package an impressively wide array of blues, country, R&B and pop songs into one seamless, mostly analog album was a welcome sea change from the heavily produced, homogenized hits of the era.

It was Raitt’s 10th studio album, but her first to crack the Billboard 200’s top 25. Over nearly 20 years, she’d gone from prodigy college dropout to undeniable live performer, whose recorded catalog was filled with uncompromising roots music and major label attempts to channel her obvious gifts into pop success.

And at the very moment when that seemed the least likely, the impossible happened: the right artist made the right album at the right time. A critical darling who had flirted with the musical mainstream for decades made a classic paean to the trials and benefits of aging that was bold and approachable at once. And its biggest hit wasn’t even the one whose music video co-starred a hunky Dennis Quaid and went into heavy rotation on the then-nascent VH1.

The narrative was obvious: The press drooled about the then-39-year-old’s “comeback” from substance abuse and obscurity, and was agog that a woman “of a certain age” — as some outlets put it in an attempt at diplomacy — might reach a wide audience singing about her own life experience.

“It actually didn’t bother me at all,” Raitt, now 69, says with characteristic frankness. “Especially because the title song is about exactly that. A lot of the circumstances besides age came together to bring that album such wide attention, but I’ve never minded talking about my age. Something I’m proud of.”

The Recording Academy didn’t mind either, sending Raitt home with all four Grammys she was nominated for at the 1990 ceremony, including album of the year — which she accepted in stocking feet after breaking a heel during one of her many trips to the stage. The album has since sold over five million copies, and more importantly, revitalized the career of one of America’s most important roots musicians.

Looking back, the album wears its age almost as well as Raitt herself — both, it seems, are timeless.

“I have so many people to come shows with their mothers, or with three generations, saying ‘My mom played this album for me in the car when I was little, and you’re one of the artists that means the most to us,’” says Raitt. “It means so much to me that Nick of Time resonated with so many women, especially. I never expected it to have the response it did.”

*******

“Out of the worst thing came the best thing.”

After failing to get the kind of hits that might have made her seven-figure deal with Warner Bros. seem worthwhile to label execs, Raitt was dropped unceremoniously by the label. She fell into a rough patch during which her self-described “road-dog” lifestyle began to catch up with her. Producer Don Was, still looking for his big break, was going through similar burn out.

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James Taylor, a master, lets Bonnie Raitt ‘steal the show every night’

Even the headliner at Rupp Arena knew who really ruled the evening.

on February 28, 2019 No comments
This was the first time Bonnie Raitt has ever played Rupp Arena, Lexington 2-27-2019 © Alex Slitz / aslitz@herald-leader.com

As he got down to business on Wednesday with a near-two hour, hits-laden show full of sublime and unavoidably sentimental tunes spanning over five decades, James Taylor remarked to the audience of 7,200 that one of the greatest pleasures of his nearly concluded tour was watching his co-billed pal Bonnie Raitt “steal the show every night.”

Count Rupp as one of those nights. Oh, nothing against Sweet Baby James. At age 70, he still exuded a good-natured folk-pop exuberance that serviced tunes as varied as the show opening reverie “Carolina in My Mind” and the tropically jovial “Mexico.”

His vocal work – with a few rare, reedy exceptions – has aged remarkably well, too, as did his way with an orchestrally inclined 11-member band that included, get this, a pair of champion Frank Zappa alums (drummer Chad Wackerman and trumpeter Walt Fowler.)

But the divine Ms. Raitt – who, amazingly, was making her Rupp debut –took this night home in her hip pocket.

Bonnie Raitt routinely steals the show, said James Taylor. And her hour-long set at Rupp Arena, featuring the showstopper “Angel from Montgomery,” demonstrated why. 2-27-2019
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© Alex Slitz / aslitz@herald-leader.com

At 69, her vocals revealed a regal glow, assimilating, as they have throughout her career, a balance of blues, soul and rock ‘n’ smarts. Similarly, her guitar work – a gorgeous, slide-savvy tone that ignited the set-opening “Unintended Consequence of Love” – would serve as rocket fuel throughout the concert.

The sheer scope of what Raitt packed into her hour-long performance was, frankly, astounding. It ran from a slow, swampy revamping of the INXS hit “Need You Tonight” and a solo acoustic blues reading of Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman” to a cool but decidedly torchy take on her own 1991 hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

But the showstopper was clearly “Angel from Montgomery,” the John Prine classic Raitt is largely responsible for introducing to the world (she recorded it in 1974, three years after Prine, but before many audiences were familiar with the song.) She gave it a solemn but emotive delivery draped with a kind of tasteful world-weariness that yielded a sense of scholarly humanity.

There was also an obvious level of camaraderie between Raitt and Taylor at the show. Taylor began the evening with an extended and heartfelt introduction of Raitt that nicely set the pace for the program’s overall charm that carried over into segments when the two artists sat in on each other’s sets at their conclusions – Taylor during Raitt’s career re-defining take on John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love” and Raitt as a co-pilot for Taylor’s encore segment that blasted off with a jovial reading of “Johnny B. Goode.”

Again, don’t get the idea that Raitt’s triumph demeaned Taylor’s showing. His set offered a few nice setlist surprises early on – namely, 1970’s “Sunny Skies,” the autumnal title tune to 1974’s overlooked “Walking Man” album and the fatherly snapshot “First of May” (one of the only tunes in the set to venture beyond the ‘70s.)

But it was with two very familiar 1970 works, played back-to-back late in the show, that the emotive extremes of Taylor’s writing came into view.

The first, “Sweet Baby James,” remained a quiet anthem of child-like expression, a cowboy lullaby that unfolded with still-vital innocence. After that came “Fire and Rain,” Taylor’s career-making single – a curiosity, given how the song is a eulogy full of blunt sadness that the singer communicated at Rupp with conversational reserve. In the end, that just made the musical impact all the more devastating.


Source: © Copyright Lexington Herald Leader But wait, there's more!