As a young and ardent follower of what would later be called Americana, Bonnie Raitt steeped herself in blues, folk and country pop from an early age. The daughter of Broadway music star John Raitt with a piano playing mother Raitt enjoyed the kind of background where she was encouraged to develop her skills as a bottleneck guitarist – and this at a time when women in the music industry were, if not few and far between, certainly unlikely to be following that particular route. Her early albums brought her into contact with Lowell George and Bill Payne from Little Feat and she was able to communicate with them as an equal. Her early albums won considerable acclaim but sales were slower to materialise. The album Home Plate did cause a ripple however as she went into bat for her sex and fond mainstream publications like Rolling Stone keen to listen up.
The aptly named Nick of Time arrived at the end of the 1980s and was so acclaimed and sold so well that three Grammy Awards arrived. Such success wasn't exactly belated but it was long overdue recognition for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Best Rock Vocal Solo and Best Rock Group Vocal performance which Bonnie sent producer Don Was up to collect. Nick of Time has sold over five million copies to date and stands repeated listening today nearly 25 years after it was conceived. Mixing Raitt originals with excellent covers like John Hiatt's 'Thing Called Love' and Bonnie Hayes' 'Love Letter', Nick of Time called on a cast of West Coast stars like Ricky Fataar, Jay Dee Maness, Herbie Hancock and the ever reliable Graham Nash and David Crosby as well as Don Was favourites like Sweet Pea Atkinson and Harry Bowens. Three singles emerged that included the title track that became an anthem in 1989 and a rallying cry for women in the industry.
1991's Luck Of The Draw found Raitt booking into her own form of songwriter's boot camp. Amazed herself at her new found stardom and anxious not to mar the moment nor slip into formula she retained Don Was and braced herself for some serious touring to hone the tracks on the album with roadwork rather than developing her studio tan. The trick paid off because Luck Of The Draw surpassed its predecessor and has sold over seven million copies.
This time the catalyst for the main event was a splendid Grammy Award winning duet with the great Delbert McClinton (backing vocals by Glen Clark) on the Cecil and Linda Womack R&B epic 'Good Man, Good Woman', the perfect vehicle for Bonnie and a raw and rough voiced suitor like Delbert. If anything she now got even more favourable reviews and when you hear her take on Paul Brady's title cut or thrill to the emotional terrain she crosses during 'Tangled and Dark' and 'Come to Me' you'll want to join her journey.
Bonnie and Was concentrated again on finding the right specialists. Here you'll enjoy the magnificent Tower of Power horns, Ian McLagan's signature organ sound, Kris Kristofferson's back ups and Richard Thompson's fluent guitar lines. Nothing lucky about this album, it's a stone classic. Brady was also key to penning the hit single 'Not the Only One', which like everything else here hung around the charts for nigh on two years.
While Bonnie held fire for three years before returning to the writing desk with Don Was she was due a period of reflection because while in this phase of her career she was still coming to terms with the pressures of fame over the piece she was up to album number twelve.
In any case Longing in Their Hearts (1994) didn't disappoint. The album starts with Little Jimmy Scott's 'Love Sneakin' Up On You' and the strongest possible arrangement this eccentric track warrants helped propel it towards the top of the US charts. Many of the same personnel remained on hand. Benmont Tench from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was a new recruit; Levon Helm arrived to add Band-like gravitas and Was paid special heed to the rhythm and horn sections. Raitt's UK following, which has always been large and loyal, picked up on the song 'You', giving Bonnie a Top 40 hit here while British folk rock lovers were delighted to hear the lady tackle Richard Thompson's classic 'Dimming of the Day'.
The live album Road Tested (a double album plus in the old money) restored Raitt's status amongst those who might have missed her brilliantly conceived shows. The thing to remember here is that while album sales certainly kicked Raitt towards a new platform she never lost sight of her roots.
While live albums are often viewed as an adjunct to the main meal that isn't the case here. Road Tested is an extraordinary document and remains completely underrated. Consider that Bonnie takes on the Talking Heads in 'Burning Down The House' and grabs the funky groove with panache, then contrast that with her version of John Prine's lush 'Angel from Montgomery' or the Crusaders' 'Never Make Your Move Too Soon'. This isn't sitting back and soaking up the applause stuff, this is deliberately cutting edge, sharp and challenging fare that nods back to her hero Mississippi Fred McDowell and also embraces newer blues guys like Chris Smither. Special mention too for Raitt's long time rhythm section – drummer Ricky Fataar – the erstwhile Beach Boy– and bassist James 'Hutch' Hutchinson – also pianist Bruce Hornsby who popped up on several key dates of Bonnie's US tour.
Now generally when an artist completes a cycle of meritorious work with a neatly career defining live album set harsher critics tend to move off and look for the next big thing but in the case of Fundamental, Bonnie's last album of the last millennium, the smart money rallied behind her even though she's split from Don Was and called in the super tag team of Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom. It was time for a change – no one wants to stay still and Raitt doesn't on this tight and treasured disc. Her penchant for a John Hiatt tune is a constant though and his clever, wordplay packed 'Lover's Will' grounds the album at heart and provides a smart element of soul. Blues, Tex Mex, border ballads and straight in your face Delta nuggets flood about as the artist confronts the aging up process and the perils of relationships in the hard hitting 'Spit of Love' and 'I'm On Your Side'.
Four years on and we're proud to offer up Silver Lining. This diverse set mixes African gospel chorale, talking drums and a slew of new sounds brought to the table by Raitt's collaborator Jon Cleary who writes, duets and propels the melodies on a staggering array of Moogs, clavinets and Wurlitzer. The keyboard is the instrumental centre of this album but the variety of colours is enhanced by tuba, gut string guitar, balafon and loops. It's Bonnie's most deliberately 'modern' album but she wins the right to tackle something new by virtue of the strength of writing and performance.
Souls Alike continues to mine that more progressive vein although country lovers will recognise names like Lee Clayton, Randall Bramblett and Wayne Kirkpatrick cropping up in the credits. Bonnie cuts back here and après the sound to a more basic approach that highlights her ever improving voice, her acoustic guitar abilities and some startling slide licks.
Throughout this period Bonnie continues to garner awards, Grammy gongs flowed for Luck Of The Draw and the nominations never dried up. To take the overview on this fine life and career then we suggest The Best of Bonnie Raitt: On Capitol 1989-2003, an 18-string marvel that fills in all the essentials and should whet the appetite for some seriously deep mining.
We should also mention that Ms Bonnie Raitt hasn't confined herself to music alone, or even made any big deal about her role in upping the ante for women in her field – that's not really her style. But she is synonymous with some important movements – not least of which is her part in The No Nukes effort. A confirmed environmentalist from the off – long before the albums cited here in fact – Bonnie Raitt is a formidable force. She's an adult in a business that can be frivolous. Not to say she's any kind of proselytiser. She is a sterling artist. She's Bonnie Raitt, nuff said.
Words: Max Bell
On the follow-up to the follow-up (and another million-selling number one hit), Bonnie Raitt contributes more than her usual share of original songs, writing four songs herself and setting a lyric of her husband's to music for a fifth. Elsewhere, she draws on such strong writers as Richard Thompson and Paul Brady, all for a collection devoted to devotion. Song after song expresses passion, usually with happy results -- this is not the album of a woman with the blues. Even when she's dressing down a parent in her own "Circle Dance," Raitt offers forgiveness and understanding. There, and in other songs, the object of her emotions rarely seems to be perfect, but she takes that in and loves him, anyway. Co-producer Don Was provides a detailed production in which single elements -- an accordion, a harmony vocal by Levon Helm or David Crosby -- effectively color arrangements and complement Raitt's always soulful singing.
Words: William Ruhlmann
Prior to Nick of Time, Bonnie Raitt had been a reliable cult artist, delivering a string of solid records that were moderate successes and usually musically satisfying. From her 1971 debut through 1982's Green Light, she had a solid streak, but 1986's Nine Lives snapped it, falling far short of her usual potential. Therefore, it shouldn't have been a surprise when Raitt decided to craft its follow-up as a major comeback, collaborating with producer Don Was on Nick of Time. At the time, the pairing seemed a little odd, since he was primarily known for the weird hipster funk of Was (Not Was) and the B-52's' quirky eponymous debut, but the match turned out to be inspired. Was used Raitt's classic early-'70s records as a blueprint, choosing to update the sound with a smooth, professional production and a batch of excellent contemporary songs. In this context, Raitt flourishes; she never rocks too hard, but there is grit to her singing and playing, even when the surfaces are clean and inviting. And while she only has two original songs here, Nick of Time plays like autobiography, which is a testament to the power of the songs, performances, and productions. It was a great comeback album that made for a great story, but the record never would have been a blockbuster success if it wasn't for the music, which is among the finest Raitt ever made. She must have realized this, since Nick of Time served as the blueprint for the majority of her '90s albums.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Nick of Time not only was an artistic comeback for Bonnie Raitt; it brought her largest audience yet, so there was no reason to mess with success for its sequel, Luck of the Draw. And sequel is the appropriate word, since Luck of the Draw is nothing if it isn't Nick of Time, Pt. 2. True, there's a heavier reliance on original material this time around, but the sound and feel of the record is identical to its predecessor. There is one slight difference -- several of the songs appear tailor-made for crossover success, whereas Nick of Time felt organic. Nevertheless, Luck of the Draw is an unqualified success, filled with strong songs -- including the hits "Something to Talk About" and "I Can't Make You Love Me," plus the Delbert McClinton duet "Good Man, Good Woman" -- appealing productions, and just enough dirt to make old-school fans feel at home.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
In a 24-year recording career, Bonnie Raitt had not previously released a live album, so this concert set was overdue. Coming off three multi-platinum studio albums, Raitt and Capitol pulled out all the stops, compiling a 22-track, double-disc package from dates recorded in July 1995 in Portland and Oakland. Raitt ranged over her career, reaching back to her early folk-blues days and forward to the pop/rock songs that finally made her a big star in the late '80s and early '90s. She also shared the spotlight with such guests as Bruce Hornsby, Ruth Brown, Charles Brown, Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Bryan Adams, and Jackson Browne. But that didn't keep an artist who has spent the bulk of her career pleasing live audiences rather than cutting hits from displaying her personal warmth along with her singing and playing skills. She also introduced half a dozen songs new to her repertoire, including a surprising cover of Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" and a few that had potential to help promote the album as singles, including "Never Make Your Move Too Soon" and "Shake a Little." Inexplicably, Capitol (which probably wished the album had been a more reasonably priced single disc) failed to bring the record home to consumers. The company's choice for a single was the anonymous Adams rocker "Rock Steady," done as a duet with him -- apparently, they were confusing Raitt with Tina Turner. As a result, the album stopped at gold, spending less than six months in the charts. Despite that commercial disappointment, it will be for many Bonnie Raitt fans an example of her at her best that effectively bridges the two parts of her career, and also a good sampler for first-time listeners.
Words: William Ruhlmann
With her road band laying the groundwork and with production responsibilities reverted primarily to her own hands, Raitt delivers varied and vivid performances throughout Silver Lining. Jon Cleary, an addition to the lineup, plays the pivotal role; his piano drives the steaming New Orleans groove on "Fool's Game," the posturing street funk of "Monkey Business," and the dusty blues tread on the acoustic-textured "No Gettin' Over You." The material, culled from American and African songwriters, along with a few Raitt originals, lends itself more to vocal interpretation than to straight-ahead blowing. Raitt's singing has never been more finely tuned, especially on the introspective title cut and on the final track, "Wounded Heart," a breathtaking duet recorded in one take with keyboardist Benmont Tench; after nailing it, Raitt reportedly fled the studio, moved to tears; any second attempt proved both undoable and unnecessary. On these performances Raitt exceeds her own standards for interpreting a lyric without compromise to her full-throated timbre. To balance these reflective moments, there are plenty of hotter ones; these also focus on the vocal, but with some exceptional guitar accompaniment as well, including Steve Cropper's licks on the low-key, Memphis-flavored "Time of Our Lives" and the greasy rhythms that push the band throughout "Gnawin' on It." Incendiary slide guitar work heats up parts of that track and several others, with another slide legend, Roy Rogers, joining in on the lascivious "Gnawin' on It." Still, Silver Lining is ultimately a showcase for exceptional singing and riveting backup work. It is also a likely milestone in Raitt's ongoing transition from blues guitar whiz to an artist of wider focus. The fires of her youth still blaze, though now they illuminate a more complex weave of techniques and a much greater depth of emotion.
Words: Robert L. Doerschuk
Apparently in an attempt to find new sounds that would appeal to a new audience, Bonnie Raitt severed her ties with her comeback producer, Don Was, for Fundamental, hiring those masterminds of experimental adult pop, Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake. Although Froom and Blake have worked with a number of singer/songwriters and roots musicians -- including Elvis Costello, Suzanne Vega, Richard Thompson, Los Lobos, and Crowded House -- they often emphasize the production over the song, pouring on layers of effects and novelty instruments that tend to obscure the songs and performances. While they don't go overboard on Fundamental like they did on Los Lobos' Colossal Head, they have pushed too much of their own style on Raitt. There are good songs scattered throughout the record, but it's hard to pick them out underneath the gauzy, murky production. Eventually, the album becomes a bit of a chore, since the sounds wear on the ears. That's too bad, because Raitt remains a vital artist -- it's just that Froom and Blake haven't allowed her to rely on her talents here.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Souls Alike is the first album in Bonnie Raitt's 18-disc catalog to bear her own name as producer with some assistance from Tchad Blake. It is also the first album in her career absent a 12-bar blues. Gone are the big washes of sound that Don Was added to her Grammy-winning recordings, and the sound Raitt has chosen for herself is a bit edgier, far more adventurous than Silver Lining, her last studio offering produced by Blake. Guitars -- courtesy of the artist and George Marinelli -- dominate, and are accented by Jon Cleary's Hammond B3, which paints the entire proceeding with a solid, somewhat funky yet outsider soul feel. Raitt keeps everything close to the vest this time out. Her road band and a handful of guests who include Mitchell Froom, Maia Sharp, David Batteau, and Sweet Pea Atkinson carried this project to fruition. What's most remarkable about Souls Alike is its songs and their focus on broken love, acceptance of responsibility, and the willingness to transcend. Cleary, Sharp, and Batteau wrote a number of tracks, as did John Capek, who provides drum loops on some cuts. It's all in the family for the most part. The songs themselves reflect on self-determination (the gorgeous title cut) in Raitt's trademark rock ballad style, Randall Bramblett's greasy, dark and slinky "God Was in the Water," the angular, ultra-modern "Crooked Crown," the grimy New Orleans second-line groove of Cleary's "Unnecessary Mercenary" with a killer slide break by Raitt and an off-the-rails piano by Cleary. Then there's the near-trip-hop of "Deep Water," a deeply sensual tune that is a shock on first listen but infectious thereafter. "The Bed I Made," by Sharp and Batteau is the album's closer. With a shimmery loop and Raitt's finest vocal on the set, it's a faux jazz-ballad that is unsettling, full of bittersweet regret and the willingness to embrace the face in the mirror and the mistakes as a way of moving through pain. It's a rather unsettling way to end an album, but then, this entire disc is brave and sharp. It marks a new turn for Raitt and offers her and her fans an entirely new road to go down -- this one deep into the heart.
Words: Thom Jurek
Would that this package were the other way around, but Bonnie Raitt and Friends is a DVD/CD project. The DVD contains an entire set recorded at the Trump Taj Mahal from 2005. Raitt, guitar goddess that she is and overall phenomenal spiritual presence on-stage, is joined by friends Alison Krauss, Ben Harper, Keb' Mo', and Norah Jones for two songs each, while all the while ripping through her own spirited and inspiring repertoire. The CD contains half the guest performances and most of Raitt's own show. For those who are not big music DVD fans, the entirety of the concert would have been wonderful on CD -- that's a hint, Capitol! What's really exciting about the show -- either way you catch it -- is that the edges in Raitt's voice that have been there from the beginning of her long and celebrated career, which are so often rounded off on her studio records, are present here, adding to her entirely soulful manner of phrasing and singing (being a song stylist is something she is rarely given credit for). Tracks like "Crooked Crown," "God Was in the Water," "Hear Me Lord," and "Trinkets" are deeply moving. Of her guest performances, "I Don't Want Anything to Change" with Norah Jones is stellar, as is "Unnecessary Mercenary" with funky-as-hell keyboardist Jon Cleary and "Two Lights in the Nighttime" with Ben Harper (all three appear on both discs). But Raitt shines best on her own; she needs no one and never has. There's plenty here to like, and some of it even to celebrate, but fans will have to pick their own moments.
Words : Thom Jurek
The Best of Bonnie Raitt on Capitol 1989-2003, its 18 tracks handpicked by the artist herself as a portrait of her renaissance years, are indicative of the high-quality work ethic she has imposed on herself. Sometimes these songs reveal the queen doing a definitive read, such as on John Hiatt's "Lovers Will" (a song that deserves far, far more than it got -- the ache in her voice is the real grain of somebody who has been on both sides of love's hot broken arrow and still has faith enough to sing) or "Thing Called Love." Sometimes she's bringing the songs of Paul Brady ("Not the Only One"), Bonnie Hayes ("Love Letter" and "Have a Heart"), or even David Gray ("Silver Lining") and Richard Thompson ("Dimming of the Day") to the masses in ways that define them for a different audience. And sometimes, it's simply Raitt playing her own songs ("Nick of Time" and "Spit of Love") full of a poetic, sensual ferocity that oozes tenderness and commitment. And throughout it all is her trademark bottleneck slide, coaxing love notes or razored snarls out of her Stratocaster. There aren't any unreleased tracks here, but for the money you get the best of the best and her own comments on each song as well as a short essay about what this music means to her. Given that you don't have that box set (yet), that means this is worth whatever you happen to pay for it -- but don't forget about getting some of those Warner albums (Give It Up is a great place to start). Here is the astonishing range, from deep blue-eyed bluesy soul, sheeny reggae-tinged pop, and adult rock & roll that moves and inspires anyone with an open mind.
Words: Thom Jurek