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.
NPR Fresh Air - review Bonnie Raitt - Just Like That by Ken Tucker 5-2-2022
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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?
And now, to top it off, Raitt has just released her first album in six years to critical acclaim.
And that acclaim is more than justified.
Just Like That… finds Raitt very much at the top of her game, still ringing the heart and soul out of every song she wraps her pipes around, whether it’s a groove-driven blues tune, a prime chunk of funk, a gritty rocker, a soulful ballad or something else she has chosen to serve up. Virtually everything seems to find a home in her wheelhouse.
The new record, the title of which comes from a line in one of her original songs that goes “Just like that your life can change”, features four Raitt originals and several songs that she has had a desire to record for some years.
Included in the latter cluster are Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart by NRBQ’s Al Anderson, Toots and the Maytals’ Love So Strong and Made Up Mind by Winnipeg’s The Bros. Landreth.
In a cruel twist of fate, Raitt had planned to record Love So Strong as a duet with her dear friend, Toots Hibbert, but the reggae giant died in 2020. She included the track here as a tribute to him.
Of the original songs, Living for the Ones, was co-written with her longtime guitarist George Marinelli. It has been described as a rocking dedication to the friends and family she has lost in recent years.
My favourite track, Made Up Mind, is a bluesy funk tune about the devil on Recovery’s shoulder. It has been described as equal parts Mose Allison, Eddie Harris and 1970s funk and the description fits.
Two of the original songs came out of real-life scenarios.
Down the Hall, a truly gorgeous piece, was inspired by a New York Times story about a prison hospice program, while the album’s title track was sparked by a news segment about two families deeply impacted on both sides of an organ donation. The power of writing about the life-changing personal experiences of others resonates deeply with Raitt.
“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.”
Just Like That… was recorded last summer in Sausalito, Calif., with a top-drawer lineup of musicians that included two veteran members of Raitt’s band – bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson and drummer Ricky Fataar – as well as two new musicians – Canadian Glenn Patscha on keyboards and backing vocals and Nashville guitarist Kenny Greenberg. George Marinelli, Raitt’s frequent guitarist/songwriting partner, also joined in, playing and singing on Livin for the Ones.
Bonnie Raitt and her band have just hit the road for an eight-month U.S. tour.
On the first leg of the tour, her special guests were NRBQ.
Other guests lined up to join her include Lucinda Williams and longtime friend, Mavis Staples. The full tour schedule can be found at www.bonnieraitt.com.
Known almost as well for her lifelong commitment to social activism as she is for her music, Raitt has long been involved with the environmental movement, performing concerts around oil, nuclear power, mining, water and forest protection since the mid-’70s.
She was a founding member of MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) which produced the historic concerts, album and movie NO NUKES and continues to work on safe energy issues in addition to environmental protection, social justice and human rights, as well as a creator’s rights and music education.
Raitt once again served as producer, reuniting for the third time with her favourite recording and mixing engineer, Ryan Freeland. Both earned Grammy Awards for Raitt’s 2012 album, Slipstream
Fifty years into her career, Raitt shows she’s still the same creative and adventurous soul who likes to mix things up.
“On this record, I wanted to stretch,” Raitt says. “I always want to find songs that excite me, and what’s different this time is that I’ve tried some styles and topics I haven’t touched on before.”
Just Like That… should be a contender for album of the year.
Doug Gallant is a freelance writer and well-known connoisseur of a wide variety of music. His On Track column will appear in The Guardian every second Thursday. To comment on what he has to say or to offer suggestions for future reviews, email him at email@example.com.
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Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine, Vol. 2, the anticipated new John Prine tribute record from Oh Boy Records, is out today. Stream/purchase HERE.
Created as a celebration of Prine’s life and career, the album features new renditions of some of Prine’s most beloved songs performed by Brandi Carlile (“I Remember Everything”), Tyler Childers (“Yes I Guess They Oughta Name A Drink After You”), Iris DeMent (“One Red Rose”), Emmylou Harris (“Hello In There”), Jason Isbell (“Souvenirs”), Valerie June (“Summer’s End”), Margo Price (“Sweet Revenge”), Bonnie Raitt (“Angel From Montgomery”), Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (“Pretty Good”), Amanda Shires (“Saddle in the Rain”), Sturgill Simpson(“Paradise”) and John Paul White (“Sam Stone”). Proceeds from the album will benefit twelve different non-profit organizations, one selected by each of the featured artists.
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Recorded on tour June 3, 2017 - Centennial Hall, London - Ontario Canada