Only a few musicians in today’s highly competitive and cutthroat music industry can actually say they’ve gotten better with age. Most try to recapture past glories, roll with the punches and fads, or relive old songs in a tempo reduced to two-thirds of the original. Fewer still deliver the goods album after album, regardless of Father or Mother Time. To fathom Bonnie Raitt falling into this category is ridiculous, as she’s proven on this latest release. While it doesn’t contain the radio friendly tracks of past classics like “Thing Called Love” or “Something To Talk About”, the album as a whole is definitely one of her strongest to date. “This album is a band album,” Raitt states in the liner notes, and nothing truer has been spoken.
Starting off with a ragtime piano and New Orleans blues feeling on the opening “Fool’s Game”, Raitt appears quite comfortable relying on her roots and somewhat sultry delivery to get her message across. Raitt has always been one to stay current while staying true to her influences, and “Fool’s Game” is no different, and sounds similar to the Black Crowes’ swampy blues swagger circa Three Snakes And One Charm. The subsequent “I Can’t Help You Now” is adult contemporary and radio-friendly material. Assisted by backup singers Tommy Sims and Bernard Fowler (backing vocalist on recent Rolling Stones outings), the track has a great quasi-funky groove to it. Unfortunately, the title track, a slow melodic ballad, has Raitt doing what Shelby Lynn is best suited for. The song isn’t necessarily horrid, but sounds more like it was included as a “breather” for live performances.
Another of Raitt’s assets is her ability to change gears from song to song, as “Time Of Our Lives” is a slow, soulful, and uplifting effort. “There must be a place for you and I,” she sings prior to giving the neighbors something to talk about (a cute reference to a previous hits). The early highlight is the Texas blues arrangement and sheer boogie quality on “Gnawin’ On It”, with some nifty guitar solo work and culminating in a subtle slide guitar. While a bit more modern sounding, the track would work well on a homemade tape with Fats Domino and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. And who could possibly complain about the funky “Monkey Business”, a song that Raitt could write in her sleep! Although lyrically shallow and inane, the song’s funky horn sections are infectious.
The second half of the record starts off with a somber jazz lullaby in the vein of Diana Krall or Cassandra Wilson. “Wherever You May Be”, one of the album’s longer songs, has an ethereal soundtrack score quality to it. The drum loops and synthesizer used here are additional assets, but the song loses its steam midway through. The gospel- and pop-flavored “Valley Of Pain”, complete with a basic organ and simple arrangement, more than atones for the previous song. Raitt’s voice shines here, steering the song along without dominating any portion of it. The gospel vibe continues, but sounds closer to Paul Simon’s Graceland in its tribal and African rhythms. The song also includes a nice bridge section that allows the band to showcase its wares.
Perhaps the signature song is the Vaudevillian “No Gettin’ Over You”, which has almost everything but the kitchen sink. The track plods along quite nicely, resembling an early Bob Dylan jug band minus the obligatory harmonica. Singing about learning Japanese and transcendental meditation to solve her problems, Raitt hasn’t sounded better, despite a more pronounced rasp. Unfortunately, this is followed by the disc’s worst track, the long and somewhat uninspired slide guitar-driven “Back Around”. The track goes nowhere in a hurry, and seems the first evidence of filler material.
Ending with a sole piano and ballad delivery on “Wounded Heart”, the album has only one dark cloud amongst its dozen songs. But considering how most records now are completely singles-oriented and ignore the remaining 35 minutes of music, it’s quite refreshing to hear an album where your finger isn’t always on the skip button. So while Ryan Adams may have laid claim to the title last year, this silver lining is pure gold.
// Notes from the Road
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