Style: Soulful blues rock; compare to The Black Crowes, Eric Clapton
Top tracks: "Down to You," "Take My Love with You," "God Only Knows"
In the seven years since her last studio effort, Bonnie Raitt endured poignant personal loss—namely the deaths of her parents, her brother, and her best friend. While artists often harness such tragedy into memorable songwriting, Raitt's trials had the opposite effect: They prompted her to slow down, take stock, and put new tunes to the side.
What ultimately brought Raitt out of the shadows to create Slipstream—her at-once supremely vibrant and spiritually aware new album—was her long-awaited chance to work with artist-producer Joe Henry (whose own album, Reverie, and another he produced, Over the Rhine's Long Surrender, were both among CT's top albums of 2011).
The 48-hour session in Henry's basement studio gave birth to eight songs, four of which made the Slipstream cut: Two Bob Dylan covers ("Million Miles" and "Standing in the Doorway") as well as Raitt's takes on a pair of Henry originals, "You Can't Fail Me Now" (co-written with Loudon Wainwright III) and the standout, meditative album closer, "God Only Knows." On the latter, Raitt's world-weary vocals shed aural tears on the quiet, piano-and-keyboard-only instrumentation, which could prove a haunting concert closer: "God only knows that we can do / No more or less than he'll allow / God only knows that we mean well / God knows that we just don't know how."
Such soulful sentiments mix seamlessly with high-powered, bluesy numbers such as opener "Used to Rule the World" and "Down to You," both of which prominently feature Raitt's electric slide guitar on extended solos and still prove pop-radio worthy. ("Down to You" sounds like a track the Black Crowes would welcome in their live sets.)
But there's also smooth balladry—and courtesy of Christian songwriter Wayne Kirkpatrick. (Remember all those Michael W. Smith hits and the mid-'90s smash, "Change the World"?) Here he collaborates again with Gordon Kennedy (and Kelly Price) for a soft, inviting love song, "Take My Love with You"—but could another kind of Lover be in the mix? "Take my love with you / Let it be the light that sees you through / Chase away your blues / Where you go and what you do / Take my love with you."
One misstep is Raitt's version of Gerry Rafferty's late-1970s hit, "Right Down the Line." While her vocal interpretation passes muster, the reggae-lite accompaniment turns the once-indelible tune into a rather forgettable cover. (That it's Slipstream's first single is a head-scratcher, too.)
But these are minor complaints, given the lyrically thoughtful and musically satisfying nature of Raitt's latest work. Slipstream is a winner and a welcome return for the celebrated six-string slinger.
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