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Bonnie Raitt, a Balladeer for the 90’s

on August 5, 1994 No comments


1994 © John Casado

Bonnie Raitt started out in the 1970’s as a blues singer. Two decades later, her songs still hold on to the forthrightness and the pained determination of the blues. But at Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday night, when she opened a two-night stand, the most telling moments came during her ballads.

Ms. Raitt is one of the least showy singers in rock; she makes the song seem to tell its story by itself. Her voice has a girlish sweetness deepened by a grainy sense of experience; it can cut through a full band in a rock song, but it can also make ballads float in their own world.

She sets forth melodies clearly and plainly, adding a slide, a blues turn or a hint of vibrato only when a word needs illumination. Within such artful simplicity, every detail becomes vivid. And in songs like Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” or her own “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” all it took was a crescendo or a quiver of vibrato to fill a song with aching honesty. John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” was a marvel, mixing hymnlike purity with conversational directness.

In a way, Ms. Raitt has returned to her heritage. She is a second-generation performer, the daughter of John Raitt, who played Broadway leads in “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel.” And she grew up in Los Angeles, where in the 1970’s, a school of songwriters and performers perfected a style that gave down-home Americana — country and blues, along with Brill Building pop — a Hollywood sheen. When Ms. Raitt and her producer, Don Was, picked up the lessons of Peter Asher’s mid-1970’s productions of Linda Ronstadt for her 1989 album, “Nick of Time,” Ms. Raitt became a million-seller.

Mass success, after years of a steady cult following, seems to have given Ms. Raitt new confidence as a songwriter. Through the years she has usually recorded a song or two of her own per album, and by now she has amassed a sizable catalogue. Her songs have had a consistent persona: that of a woman who’s both loving and self-reliant, both sensual and, almost despite herself, sensible. One of her new songs, “Feeling of Falling,” confesses to missing wilder times but refusing to go “over the ledge.” In songs like “Nick of Time” and “Circle Dance,” she acts her age (44), examining questions of mortality and forgiveness across generations.

Ms. Raitt still seems surprised by the size of her audience. At Radio City, she started by urging the audience to “pretend we’re at a club tonight,” and throughout the show she spoke to the audience casually, taking pains to credit other songwriters and her band members. She singled out James (Hutch) Hutchinson, on bass, for bringing African and Celtic music into her songs.

For most of her summer tour, Ms. Raitt is performing at large outdoor halls (including the Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, L.I., on Aug. 18 and 19), and she had a stage backdrop and lighting effects that were occasionally distracting. But she’s reluctant to play the rock star; only in an encore, John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love,” did she carry her guitar to the edge of the stage and strut through a solo.

She also had a show-business finale: a guest appearance by her father. The 77-year-old Mr. Raitt, his voice still hearty and accurate, joined his daughter for a duet in “They Say It’s Wonderful,” from “Annie Get Your Gun,” and took over for “Oklahoma!” Ms. Raitt’s own style, reserved and confessional, is a generation away from her father’s gusto, but her filial pride was obvious.

Source: © Copyright The New York Times

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CELEBRATING WITH: John and Bonnie Raitt; Like Father, Unlike Daughter

on February 2, 1994 No comments


Published: February 2, 1994

“IS that Bonnie?”

The fan is young, in his mid-20’s, and he looks at Bonnie Raitt, seven-time Grammy winner, as she walks down the street, with love in his eyes and lust in his heart. But who is that with her, that tall, still-dapper white-haired man in the black leather jacket? The fan seems puzzled. It is her father, John Raitt, who was the original Billy Bigelow in “Carousel” on Broadway in 1945 and Sid Sorokin in “The Pajama Game” in 1954, and who last week came to New York to be inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame. By his daughter.

Jan Clayton (Julie Jordan) and John Raitt (Billy Bigelow) in Carousel (1945)

Jan Clayton (Julie Jordan) and John Raitt (Billy Bigelow) in Carousel (1945)

“I’m partial, but I still think he’s the greatest singer the musical theater ever produced,” Ms. Raitt says, in her father’s suite at the Wyndham Hotel. “He makes the character so believable. To be his daughter and watch him kill himself in ‘Carousel’ was very heavy for me. It was hard to separate. What has stood the test of time is his astounding ability to bring emotion to a song, singing from his soul with this incredible, heroic voice.”

“That’s very nice, Bonnie,” Mr. Raitt says, a little choked up.

“Nobody does it the way you do, Dad. Boohoo, I’m never going to get through this speech tonight,” she says, starting to laugh with nerves over the induction ceremonies at the Gershwin Theater, where the Theater Hall of Fame is housed. “People come up to me all the time who saw Dad in ‘Oklahoma!’ or ‘Pajama Game,’ and they say they’ll never forget it.”

Ms. Raitt’s own career path rarely felt as effortless as her father’s. She dropped out of Radcliffe College in the late 1960’s to pursue her music, and later stubbornly refused to compromise her blues-oriented rock to the industry’s more mainstream standards. And in the mid-1980’s she acknowledged and began to treat an alcohol addiction. Growing up with a dad who epitomized the romantic leading man, squeaky clean and always on the side of right, the two seem a classic in opposites.

But, at 44, Ms. Raitt has found that the world has caught up with her music and then some (her album “Nick of Time” sold four million copies in 1990, and her 1992 “Luck of the Draw” sold five million). She is also happily married to the actor Michael O’Keefe. She has come to celebrate her father today and she means it.

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