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‘60 Songs That Explain the ’90s’: Bonnie Raitt Knows Love (and Heartbreak)

on May 18, 2022 No comments
By Rob Harvilla

Bonnie Raitt has been a lot of things—a blues singer, a rock singer, arguably a jazz singer, occasionally a country singer, and eventually a blockbuster pop singer—and on “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” she pronounced herself the purveyor of a timeless, wrenching classic

Grunge. Wu-Tang Clan. Radiohead. “Wonderwall.” The music of the ’90s was as exciting as it was diverse. But what does it say about the era—and why does it still matter? 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s is back for 30 more episodes to try to answer those questions. Join Ringer music writer and ’90s survivor Rob Harvilla as he treks through the soundtrack of his youth, one song (and embarrassing anecdote) at a time. Follow and listen for free exclusively on Spotify. In Episode 63 of 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s—yep, you read that right—we’re breaking down Bonnie Raitt’s timeless “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

Bonnie Raitt was born in Burbank, California, in 1949. She put out her first album, called Bonnie Raitt, in 1971, when she was 21 years old. Then she put out eight more records. Let’s call this Phase 1. But right from the very beginning of Phase 1, boy could Bonnie Raitt sing the bejesus out of the word love.

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But you can’t sing the bejesus out of the word love like that if love hasn’t already kicked your ass a whole bunch of times.

That’s from her debut album. It’s an old blues ballad called “Since I Fell for You.” It rules. You know the song “Get Yourself Another Fool” by Sam Cooke? On Sam Cooke’s Night Beat record. Look into that one. Unbelievable. At 21 years old Bonnie’s already starting to operate on that level of poise and gravitas and pathos. Phase 1 of Bonnie Raitt comprises nine records in 15 years. No huge blockbuster chart-topping albums. No breakout singles. Just a steady and healthy and for quite a while a sustainable career bolstered by the fact that one day she’d write a song—it’s the last song actually on her 10th album, which will formally kick off Phase 2—called “The Road’s My Middle Name.”

Bonnie “The Road” Raitt. Put out solid records and tour your ass off. That’s Bonnie’s foundational idea. Another foundational idea: flexibility. She is a blues singer, and a rock singer, and arguably a jazz singer, and occasionally a country singer, and eventually a blockbuster pop singer. But for the first decade and a half, without any outrageous pop success, she enjoys what she’ll later call “a parallel career” to pop in a genre she once described to Stereogum like this: “There’s a format that always plays me, which they’ve called 10 different names over the years.” And then she lists some of those names: roots music. Americana. AOR: Album-oriented rock. She can be folk. She can be folk rock. She can be Southern rock. Honorary Southern rock. Yeesh. Don’t get hung up on any of this. Don’t be like me. Focus on the poise, the gravitas, the pathos, the hard-earned wisdom. Focus on her voice.

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This is a song Bonnie wrote called “Nothing Seems to Matter.” Dope “Maggie May” vibes here. It’s on her second album, Give It Up, from 1972, which starts with another song Bonnie wrote called “Give It Up or Let Me Go.” The let me go is crucial. Don’t waste my time is a central theme of Bonnie Raitt’s love songs, notably, but the slightly risque nature of the phrase Give It Up is worth noting as well, I suppose.

If Bonnie Raitt first came to your attention in the late ’80s or early ’90s—which appeared to be the case for millions of people, some of whom were Grammy voters—then it might very well be that your first impression of her was as a 40-year-old veteran rock star on, like, her 11th album. Bonnie was one of this era’s great comeback stories, though she’s joked that calling it a comeback implies that she’d ever been a huge star to begin with. But one of the real joys of doing a Bonnie Raitt deep dive now, of luxuriating in Phase 1, is you get to experience her as a younger, presumably much wilder person, as a 20-something flamethrower in the 1970s trying to drink various old blues legends under the table, and succeeding.

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This song’s called “Guilty.” From her third album, Takin’ My Time, in 1973. A melancholy horn section followed Bonnie Raitt everywhere she went for most of the ’70s, just in case she broke into song in the bathroom or something.

I hope she shared the cocaine with the horn section. She probably did. She seems like a super-nice lady. The silver-white streak, in Bonnie’s hair—if you’re like me, you even hear the name Bonnie Raitt and you picture her shrouded in this elegant, roaring campfire of deep red hair, with a silver-white streak in the middle, right? She says that streak started coming in naturally when she was 24, and by 1981 the streak was expanding while the red was fading, so she started dying her hair, but around the streak, to protect it, because as she told Parade magazine once, “I’ve been told it means you’ve been kissed by an angel.” That white streak is a bit on-the-nose, as metaphors go, yes? For a young instant-classic blues singer, for an old soul, for a masterful song interpreter who’d only just hit her mid-20s. It’s like she manifested that streak. Her fourth album, Streetlights, from 1974, that’s the one with her cover of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.” Holy moley.

Listen, John Prine is John Prine, and I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that anybody can out–John Prine John Prine, but I do think Bonnie Raitt sings these lines with a singularly electrifying sense of exasperation.

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So apparently this time out I am disinclined to inundate you with other artists and other songs, for whimsical and discursive purposes, and I am trying to honor my impulse to not indulge my usual whimsical discursive impulses, but it might just be that I got quite entranced by Phase 1 Bonnie Raitt. We might gotta speed this up. Let me briefly direct your attention, though, to her fifth album, from 1975, called Home Plate. First of all, the Home Plate album cover does indeed feature an exuberant Bonnie Raitt sliding into home plate, and I say to you now, with affection, that her sliding form is terrible, like she’s way out in front of home plate, which by the way appears to be shaped incorrectly—the sides are much longer than regulation—and her one leg is way too high, as though she is trying to kick the catcher in the face. Terrible sliding form, great album cover. And perhaps she’s trying to spike the catcher because the catcher is the gentleman to whom she directs the piano-driven heartbroken love song “My First Night Alone Without You.”

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Piano-driven heartbroken love songs being somewhat of a Bonnie Raitt specialty, at this point, if you go in for, y’know, foreshadowing. The aching in her head might also be caused by whiskey, or cocaine, or the concussion she received from poorly sliding into home plate.

It’s weird, though, to have zero digressions, isn’t it? Is this too streamlined? Are you familiar with this show? If so, do you feel like you clicked on the wrong thing? You’re right. What about just one other Bonnie Raitt–caliber American icon, with a career running parallel to hers, just for reference, just to see what that double helix looks like? Let’s try this. Another deified singer-songwriter. Another old soul steeped in the blues without getting all pompous and Blueshammer-y about it. Also from California. Born in Pomona. That’s close! Bonnie’s from Burbank. That’s like a 40-minute drive! It probably isn’t. That’s just what Google Maps says. It’s probably like four hours. (My editor chimed in here to say, “Only a madman would do this drive.” There you go. Come to me with all your questions about Los Angeles geography.) Whatever. It doesn’t matter how long the drive is. This is gonna go great.

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You recognize that voice? No? Yeah, I don’t blame ya. OK. Look at how well this works, actually. Also born in 1949. He’s less than a month younger than Bonnie Raitt. Also started kicking around in 1971 or so. OK, we’re doing it. This guy. This guy who also appears to be dealing with a “My First Night Alone Without You”–type situation.

The first Tom Waits studio album is called Closing Time, from 1973, he’s sitting at a dimly lit piano looking world-historically pensive and poetic, very similar vibe and lighting scheme to Bonnie Raitt on the cover of her first album, except she’s smiling; if you’re willing to put a bed and a piano in the same room you can imagine that they’re actually sitting in the same room, and Bonnie’s reclined there, somewhat amused, listening to her morose pal Tom pensively plinking at a piano. But let’s not belabor this comparison. This song’s called “Martha.” It’s the single best heartbroken piano ballad of the 1970s. It’s the “I Can’t Make You Love Me” of its era.

To hear the full episode click here, and be sure to follow on Spotify and check back every Wednesday for new episodes on the most important songs of the decade. This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity and length.


Source: © Copyright The Ringer

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Bonnie Raitt extends the boundaries of her signature sound with ‘Just Like That’

on May 2, 2022 No comments
by Ken Tucker

More than 50 years after the release of her first album, Raitt’s voice remains a subtle instrument: earthy with an ache around the edges. Its sly intimacy is, as always, a deep pleasure.

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Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Bonnie Raitt has just released her first album in over six years. It’s called “Just Like That” and finds her working in a variety of genres, including the blues, reggae, rock and funk. In April, Raitt was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys, but rock critic Ken Tucker says her creative lifetime has been revitalized and extended by this highly eclectic new album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “MADE UP MIND”)

BONNIE RAITT: (Singing) It starts out slow. Go ahead and go. Pretty soon the melody is like a rainstorm tin-roof symphony. But it starts out slow.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: One thing that strikes you immediately upon listening to this album, “Just Like That,” is that this is Bonnie Raitt stretching out, extending the boundaries of her signature sound. Listen to her cover of a Toots and the Maytals song, “Love So Strong,” a sturdy chunk of reggae that she’d planned to sing as a duet with her friend Toots Hibbert, but he died before that could happen, in 2020. In the middle of the song, she takes a slide guitar solo that is fleet and fluid, winding around the beat and the clattering drums of Ricky Fataar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “LOVE SO STRONG”)

RAITT: (Singing) I said my love is so strong, and my mind is unchangeable. You take a look at my face. You will see that my future’s still bright, oh, bright as the sun and the sky now, honey. You’re sure to see me shine, shine as the stars in the morning that brighten up the sky.

TUCKER: With the exception of the early ’90s, when the startling commercial success of her album “Nick Of Time” made her briefly ubiquitous, Raitt has always been more of what they used to call a journeyman than either a cult item or a star. Despite all that nice late-career recognition such as her recent lifetime achievement Grammy, to call Raitt an icon ignores the fact that she’s never wanted to be worshipped. Her voice remains a subtle instrument, earthy with an ache around the edges, its smoothness textured by a fine grittiness. Its sly intimacy is, as always, a deep pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “SOMETHING’S GOT A HOLD OF MY HEART”)

RAITT: (Singing) No one drive me crazy like the crazy you drive me. Blast off planet Venus. Ain’t no use to revive me. And I know just what I want to do and when I want to do it. Never knew this could feel so bad. I don’t know why I waited for the love of me. Something’s got a hold of my heart.

TUCKER: Raitt takes her sadness about people who’ve died over the past few years and transfigures that sense of loss into a roiling passion that bursts out as a rocker called “Livin’ For The Ones.”

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “LIVIN’ FOR THE ONES”)

RAITT: (Singing) I can barely raise my head off the pillow. Some days I never get out of bed. I start out with the best of intentions and then shuck it instead. Don’t think we’ll get back how we use to. No use in tryin’ to measure the loss. We better start gettin’ used to it and damn the cost. Go ahead and ask me how I make it through. The only way I know is keep livin’ for the ones, ones who didn’t make it.

TUCKER: Raitt wrote the bittersweet lyrics to “Livin’ For The Ones” and this album is unusual for having four songs written by Raitt, who spent most of her career interpreting other writers’ songs. She said in recent interviews that she was partially inspired to write after thinking deeply about the death of John Prine in 2020. You can hear Prine’s influence in “Down The Hall,” in which she plucks her guitar and sings in the character of a person tending to frail patients in a hospice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “DOWN THE HALL”)

RAITT: (Singing) I had the flu in a prison infirmary. My last day, I looked up and saw a man wheeled round the corner, down to skin and bones, that’s all. I asked the nurse where he was going. She said hospice down the hall. He probably won’t be in there long. In a day, we’ll get the call. 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 goin’ out alone…

TUCKER: That is a voice of compassion and generosity, qualities many of us encounter all too rarely these days. Bonnie Raitt has always been an intriguingly complex figure, a singer-songwriter with a social conscience who’s kept sloganeering out of her music, a lusty, salty, good time gal with the work ethic of a disciplined artist, a vocalist who treats romance and relationships as things that require patience and maturity. At the age of 72 and 50 years since the release of her first album, she’s poured a lifetime of those attributes into this new one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “BLAME IT ON ME”)

RAITT: (Singing) Blame it on me. Hold up my faults for all to see. Truth is love’s first first casualty. Blame it on me. Blame it on me. It’s not the way love’s supposed to be. How can you so casually blame it on me?


Source: © Copyright NPR

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Just Like That – Bonnie Raitt

on April 26, 2022 No comments

Folk and Tumble album reviews of the latest studio and live record releases from folk, Americana, blues, and country artists across the world.

Ringing slide guitar and soulful vocals combine on ‘Just Like That’ to make Bonnie Raitt’s new release a memorable one.

Her trademark slide guitar, which has made her the envy of players everywhere, remains a thing of joy, effortlessly on display throughout. When Bonnie chooses to rock, everyone knows it.  Bonnie has championed many writers in the past, whose work may have been passed by. The Brothers Landreth is a case in point on this offering. Bonnie stays close to the Canadian band’s original on the soul-infused ‘Made up Mind’, and yet she still stamps her own identity on it with a beautiful velvet delivery.

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‘Love So Strong’ was intended as a duet with Toots Hibbert, but sadly following his death, it’s played here as a heartfelt tribute.  ‘Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart’ by NRBQ’s Al Alderson is another ready-made standard for the seemingly ageless singer.  This time around, Bonnie has written, or co-written 4 of the 10 tracks herself, more than on any other album.

‘Livin’ For the Ones’ is co-written with her long-time guitarist George Marinelli, for the friends and family she has lost. This is a song that will connect, and resonate with so many people. Both an upbeat celebration of life, and a love song to those lost to Covid, and beyond. A song that is universal in its scope, but so personal in its interpretation for each listener. And it rocks!  ‘Down the Hall’ is a true story set in the hospice of a prison, with a prisoner caring for his dying fellow inmates with compassion and truth, a task that ultimately frees the narrator from his own bars.

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The title track concerns the impact of a heart transplant on two families, one the donor’s mother, and one the recipient. It’s a heart-wrenching story of loss and sacrifice, acceptance, and common humanity:

Just like that, your life can change…

No knife can carve away the stain, no drink can drown regret

They say Jesus brings you peace and grace, but he ain’t found me yet

One can almost hear Bonnie’s great friend, John Prine singing that last line. But there’s resolution and closure too

While I spent so long in darkness, I never thought the night would end

But somehow grace has found me, and I had to let him in.

Bonnie has spoken of the style of narrative in these songs:

“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.”

Bonnie hasn’t written that much over her career, which is a shame, because it is such a gift to be able to write such succinct and eloquent distillations of the human experience.

Following two years of isolation and loss of loved ones from the pandemic, and mired as the world is, at the minute in conflict and hate, Bonnie’s songs speak to the grace and humanity that the heart can aspire to. ‘Just Like That’ is an album for these times, and all time.

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Source: © Copyright Folk and Tumble

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