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How does Bonnie Raitt ease the pain in fraught times? By singing songs and watching animal videos

on July 28, 2022 No comments
By Jon Bream

The pain in Bonnie Raitt‘s voice was palpable over the phone. Not the I-Can’t-Make-You-Love-Me agony, but the life-as-we-know-it-is-getting-so-hard suffering.

The reversal of Roe v. Wade for women’s rights, the war in Ukraine, voting rights restrictions, the murder of George Floyd, climate change and the surge in gun violence, among other things, have rankled the longtime activist for progressive causes.

Raitt speaks out in interviews, on social media and at countless benefit concerts, but she doesn’t jump on a soapbox at her own shows.

“I’m very cognizant that people are there to hear a concert and not to be preached or convinced of one position or the other,” said the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, who returns to her beloved Minnesota on Friday at the Ledge Amphitheater in Waite Park.

“I try to mention at the end of the show: ‘Don’t be discouraged and I won’t be. We’ll help each other stay active,’ ” continued Raitt, a child of the ’60s who was raised as a pacifist Quaker.

In these fraught times, the singer-guitarist has found a special, unexpected way to chill out: watching videos of animals, like pandas sneezing or cockatoos dancing.

“The ones that get me the most are the unlikely pairings of friendships of animals,” she said, citing a morning-news report about the Funny Farm Rescue & Sanctuary in New Jersey, where animals roam free and bond. “By the end of it, my oxytocin level was up to the level of what Grateful Dead fans must feel like at the end of the show.”

She giggled, like a giddy Deadhead.

Stretching on new album

Raitt returned to the road this past spring to promote “Just Like That,” her 18th studio album since her 1971 eponymous debut was recorded in a barn on Lake Minnetonka. The new project is her most daring work, tapping new sounds and new forms of songwriting after all these years.

Waitin’ For You To Blow” showcases her in a jazz jaunt as she discusses the challenges of recovery.

“That was the biggest stretch for me,” said Raitt, who has been in recovery for 34 years. “I told the band I have this idea for a stutter funk rhythm track with this kind of jazzy Les McCann/Eddie Harris chords with this kind of sardonic Randy Newman/Mose Allison lyric.

“It’s probably the most satisfying, scary jump I’ve made musically.”

Recovery is one of the themes of the album — along with grace, redemption and mortality.

“Those are the four horsemen of the apocalypse,” Raitt said.

“Livin’ for the Ones,” a Stonesian rocker, doesn’t have a new sound, but it talks about living life to the fullest. It was inspired in part by her brother Steve Raitt, a longtime Twin Cities sound engineer/producer who died of a brain tumor in 2009.

“I’m going to live for the life he didn’t get to live. That’s how I got through his death,” she said this month from her home in Northern California.

She talked about Steve not veering from his macrobiotic diet for seven years and outliving the Mayo Clinic’s prognosis by six years. “When he went blind and couldn’t walk the last few months of his life and was still fighting and thought he was going to recover — I’m breaking up talking about it.”

She paused to regain her composure.

“And I said, ‘I’m never going to complain again every day I can open my eyes and stand up and walk.’ “

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Never a prolific songwriter, Raitt also tried a different kind of writing this time — storytelling based on a real-life incident, a style she’d always admired in the works of Bob Dylan, John Prine and Jackson Browne. She composed two tunes based on news stories.

“Down the Hall” is a tale of redemption about a convicted murderer who works as a prison hospice aide. Raitt discovered the details in a New York Times piece by Suleika Jaouad.

The album’s title song, “Just Like That,” was drawn from a true story about an organ transplant connecting two families struck by tragedies.

Healing with ‘Angel’

Released in April on Raitt’s own Redwing label, “Just Like That” was No. 1 on the Americana charts for several weeks. Maybe that’s proof that music is healing in times of trouble.

“We have to keep turning our face to the sun and finding a way to bring joy to each other and ourselves,” said the feisty redhead with a distinctive streak of white hair. “I’ve got a big job.”

She heals herself and her audience every time she sings her signature songs in concert.

Before she utters the first words of the gut-wrenching “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” she takes “a spiritual deep breath and I just surrender to the emotions of the song.”

She’s been on both sides of the situation depicted in Mike Reid’s tortuous lament — no longer loving someone and hearing that message herself.

“In one case, they begged me to still do the family Christmas. Auch! It was really brutal. I sing it for anybody that’s gone through that. And that’s probably everyone in the hall.”

When it comes to Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” Raitt gets choked up these days because they duetted twice shortly before he died of COVID-19 in 2020.

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“Now it’s all I can do to not break down when I’m singing,” she said. “I think of him the entire time I’m singing and I’m honoring him this time.

“In years past, I’ve sung it especially for my mom [pianist Marge Goddard], and I’ve been dedicating it the last couple of tours to all the women who don’t have the choice to not get married or can’t leave a marriage, can’t have an education, can’t drive a car, can’t wear a short skirt. I think about all those women around in the world trapped in situations they can’t get out of.

“In my mom’s case, she never got the credit for the incredible contribution she made to my dad’s career. My mom’s generation sacrificed to raise the kids. I made a decision not to saddle someone else to support me.”

At 72, Raitt shows no signs of slowing down. Her father, Broadway star John Raitt, performed until he died at age 88. Tony Bennett, despite dementia, was singing at 95 and remembering the words, she pointed out.

Suddenly Raitt shifted into a frail voice of an elderly woman.

“I’ll be making music till I drop,” she creaked.

Then, returning to her regular voice, she was full of her usual unstoppable spunk: “I’m going to come out at the end with white hair — and a red streak.”

She laughed.


Jon Bream has been a music critic at the Star Tribune since 1975, making him the longest tenured pop critic at a U.S. daily newspaper. He has attended more than 8,000 concerts and written four books (on Prince, Led Zeppelin, Neil Diamond and Bob Dylan). Thus far, he has ignored readers’ suggestions that he take a music-appreciation class.


Source: © Copyright StarTribune

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Bonnie Raitt Inspires on Album ‘Just Like That…’

on June 9, 2022 No comments
by Tina Benitez-Eves

Watching a human interest segment on the news in 2018, Bonnie Raitt couldn’t pull away from the story of a woman who donated her child’s organ and was about to meet the recipient of her son’s heart for the first time. The man sat with her and asked if she would like to put her head on his chest so she could hear her son’s heart. “I just lost it,” says Raitt. “It was the most moving and surprising thing. I wasn’t expecting it. I vowed right then that I wanted to write a song about what that would take.”

Riveted by the idea of how families can make the life-altering decision in one of the most difficult moments, Raitt began writing the lyrics to “Just Like That,” the corner piece of her eighteenth album. 

“Every time I hear about a family donating organs when their child has been killed, or there’s some sort of sudden death—as if you’re not in grief and shock enough—to have the view and the compassion and the love to be able to pay it forward like that is so incredible,” says Raitt, “and the kindness of the recipient, and what that must feel like for them.”

In May of 2018, Raitt was also affected by a story she read in The New York Times Magazine about a prison hospice program in Vacaville, California where inmates work as caregivers for fellow terminal convicts. Staggered by her reaction to the intimate photographs and stories of volunteers devoting their time to those incarcerated at the end of their lives, she wrote her own story on “Down the Hall,” singing from the perspective of the caretakers: I asked if they let family in / She said not really at the end / Truth is a lot don’t have someone, no friends or next of kin / The thought of those guys going out alone, it hit me somewhere deep / I asked could go sit with them, for some comfort and relief.

“I just immediately felt how many segregated, separated, polarized segments of our population out in society are reflected in microcosms in prisons,” says Raitt. “Those pictures, without any explanation, were such a beautiful testimony of how the need of one human being to have compassion from another, and empathy, and care was just so moving. I’m moved by it now. I can barely sing those songs without getting touched again.”

Drawn to these two news stories amid a flurry of hatred and inequality happening in real-time within the U.S., Raitt had the pillars of Just Like That…, a collection of humanistic stories that moved her to write and look back on previous times. 

An affinity for The Gift of the Magi and early 20th century short stories by O. Henry to reflection on the loss of friend John Prine, who died on April 7, 2020, and his first songs “Donald and Lydia” and “Angel of Montgomery,” and further references to Bob Dylans’ earlier acoustic story songs, helped Raitt capture the modesty of the narratives she needed to deliver. 

“Those story songs, Prine and Jackson and Paul Brady from Ireland, and Bob Dylan was really what I wanted to do on those two songs,” says Raitt, “to come from that fingerpicking simplicity of just a person on the guitar.”

Bonnie Raitt by Shervin Lainez

On Just Like That… Raitt revisits songs she’s meant to cover for years like “Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart,” by NRBQ’s Al Anderson, which was ringing in her head for three decades. Then she paid homage to Toots and the Maytals with a cover of “Love So Strong,” a song she originally planned to duet with her friend Toots Hibbert before his untimely death from COVID in 2020. Instead, Raitt turned the song into a tribute to the reggae artist. Opening on the bluesier uptempo “Made Up Mind” by alt-country group The Bros. Landreth, who she had friended nearly a decade earlier at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, Raitt also found a place for her rendition of “Here Comes Love” by the California Honeydrops, a song she initially cut during her Dig In Deep session in 2015.

Returning to work on Just Like That…when her international tour with James Taylor was halted due to the pandemic in March 2020, Raitt also continued performing for fundraising live streams around social justice, environmental issues, and the election. She then jumped at an open pocket of space to rehearse with her band for the first time in 2021. 

“It’s like putting together a great meal,” says Raitt of her 10 song selections. “I’m not a terrific cook, but I appreciate why you wouldn’t want to put this vegetable with that vegetable when this one will be a better match. I want to say something new on every record, and with 21 albums, man, I’ve covered a lot of territory of what can go wrong in a love affair. Those blues guitar licks on ‘Made Up Mind,’ I could have been singing a song about a laundromat and I still would’ve cut it.”

Roused by jazz musicians like Eddie Harris, Mose Allison, Raitt tells a wicked tale of a devil sitting on someone’s shoulder with a throwback to 1970s funk on “Waitin’ For You to Blow.” 

“There’s something thrilling about creating something brand new out of feelings and styles that have always run so deep in me,” she says. “I wanted to stretch on this record and do something different for me, and for the fans. To do those acoustic fingerpicking story songs was one way, and the other way was funk. I’ve always loved how funk and R&B and jazz intersect.”

Elaborating on the “Waitin’ For You to Blow” subject, Raitt, who is coming up on 35 years sober, always had this vision of a devil sitting on her shoulders, waiting for her to slip up. “It’s not even about whether you’re going to drink or use drugs, or it’s sex or exercise or whatever your drug is,” she says. “It’s every day where you don’t stay in bed and watch that movie another hour, or tell those little white lies to people, these kinds of slippery behaviors. There’s that little devil trying to urge you to ‘why not keep going.’” Raitt referenced Randy Newman and Warren Zevon, and songs like “Dirty Laundry” by Don Henley to capture the essence of the track. “I love those kinds of sardonic, sarcastic point of view songs where it gets the message across much better, especially when there’s a funky beat or it’s a rock and roll song.”

The horns and breaks, and jazzier keyboard chords of a funk song were already in her head, as Raitt conceived the entire arrangement, inspired by the jazz fusion of groups like The Crusaders, the backing bands of Joe Cocker and Paul Simon. “There’s no reason to give it a name,” says Raitt, catching her band off guard after suggesting a shuffle in the bridge. “It’s as jazz as it is funk as it is blues and rock. Ray Charles had it. James Brown had it.”

Interspersed with original material and covers, Raitt offered another one of her story-songs on the contemplative ballad “Living for the Ones,” motivated by losses around the pandemic and co-written with her longtime guitarist George Marinelli. “This song was written specifically about what we’ve been going through the last couple of years,” reveals Raitt. She added that the election brought her to her knees with the “vitriol and lies and delusions” she fears are threatening democracy along with the encroachment of “fascist elements” within our society. “It’s never been as bad as it’s been now in my lifetime,” adds Raitt. “I’m incredibly inclined to go find a cabin somewhere, put my head under a pillow, and not come out again.”

For Raitt, the pain, heartbreak, stress, and anxiety centered around the climate crisis and the devastation around the world, which she says has been caused by richer nations not managing emissions or making polluters pay and being proactive and making safe energy work. The Black Lives Matter movement also moved Raitt, due to the “visceral sickening horror of watching George Floyd’s murder,” and the ensuing realization of how often this has been happening.

Adding to the massive collection of losses in her album notes, Raitt began making a list of people she wanted to honor and dedicate the album to but had to stop at 14 for fear of having paragraphs of names. “I learned about loss, how my reaction could be to it, and gaining strength to keep going,” says Raitt, whose brother, musician Steve Raitt, died in 2009 at the age of 61 after an eight-year battle with brain cancer, right before she lost another friend and many others within her age group to cancer and heart disease and even suicide in the years that followed.

Partially dedicated to her brother, “Living for the Ones” is also a dedication to the ones everyone has lost. “I wanted to sing a song about what I started to do when my brother passed away, which was live for the life he didn’t get to have every day. He went blind and he couldn’t walk in the last month of his life, and every day that I can swing my legs across the bed and stand up, every day I open my eyes and I can look out, I’m not complaining. I’m gonna make it through for the ones that didn’t get to.”

More than 50 years since Raitt debuted with her self-titled album, four decades on from Green Light, and the superfluous anniversaries that come with more than five decades of music-making, Raitt doesn’t have any far-fetched aspirations. She just wants to play live again. She comes from a lineage of lifers, working till the end, like her father, actor and singer John Raitt, who continued to perform through the age of 86. 

“I come from some stock [of artists] in blues and jazz and Broadway world where people didn’t retire,” says Raitt. “Everybody’s always saying that they’re going to retire. Why should I retire? What would I do? I’d be bored to death.”

She adds, “I’m in a world of other musicians that I think are doing their best work now. Mick [Jagger] and Keith [Richards] and Paul McCartney… these people don’t show any signs of flailing or losing their jobs. People are just getting richer and deepening if you’re blessed enough to have good health and not coast on your laurels and do less good material. You have to keep being excellent and caring, or it doesn’t work.”

Now 72, Raitt feels lucky, alive, and grateful to still have something to say, and the ability to share it with the world again. “We all hope we stay in good health,” says Raitt. “I hope I can still sing. If not, I’ll just stand up at the side of [the] stage and watch. I’ll get some YouTube person to win a contest and sing my parts for me and give them a Bonnie Raitt wig.” Raitt adds, “I’ll just keep shape-shifting and watch on the side of the stage, or maybe I’ll play my slide guitar sitting in a chair, or be in the band and dress up as the person that’s dressed up as me.”

Thinking of the reality of her life and career with some jest, Raitt honestly doesn’t see the end of her musical road anytime soon.

“I hope I get to do it another 15 years,” shares Raitt. “I really do. I just keep looking at Keith and Mick and go ‘all right, I’ll keep doing it.’”

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Source: © Copyright American Songwriter

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Bonnie Raitt’s Just Like That… Expands a Legendary Catalog
Taking stock of the blues and roots hero’s extensive career ahead of her visit to the Ryman

on May 25, 2022 No comments
Brittney McKenna

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.

© Marina Chavez

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.


Source: © Copyright Nashville Scene

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