For some unknown reason, guitar playing heroics in rock and roll seem to be dominated by men. Few and far between are the women who both front a band vocally and with the guitar. Of those, there is one who instantly springs to mind as being equal, if not a superior, to many of her male contemporaries.
Bonnie Raitt long ago carved out her place in rock’s pantheon of great players. Her smooth as silk slide blues guitar has stood the test of time and established her as one of the greats in the American blues tradition. In a career that now spans over thirty years, she has covered more territory musically (and geographically, considering her extensive touring) than most musicians even contemplate.
On her latest release Souls Alike, Raitt shows that although she still loves her Delta Blues roots, she is more than willing to keep experimenting with technology and musical styles. While songs like “Love On One Condition” and “Unnecessarily Mercenary” show off her virtuosity with the slide and reassure us that the growl in her voice is still alive and well, other tracks indicate her refusal to be pigeonholed.
“Trinkets”, the albums fifth cut, has a funk groove reminiscent of Dr. John and sounds like it comes from the heart of New Orleans. While light in tone and with lyrics bordering on nonsense, you almost miss the fact that it’s a song in praise of the little things that help form a child’s life.
“Mom and daddies get a good idea/what your babies want/To help ’em be happy like that ol’ Gal named Betty/Yeah the groovy old chick teaches Tai-Chi on the levee/Rain or shine she’s out there, she’s dedicated/She’s wrinkled but she lovely/she flexible/and don’t you wish we all/were flexible enough to/to dance now?” Bonnie Raitt: “Trinkets”, Souls Alike
Taking a step away from her Deep South influences, Raitt explores some unfamiliar territory on “Crooked Crown”. Musically more reminiscent of Alannis Morrisette than John Lee Hooker, and with an effects box on her voice for harmonies, this is not the sound we’ve come to expect on a Bonnie Raitt CD.
But it is a great song, and indicative of her willingness to continue to stretch herself as an artist. One of her strengths has always been her ability to choose music that is appropriate for her to perform. But on Souls Alike she shows herself willing to take risks in her repertoire that artists half her age aren’t willing to attempt.
In this, her eighteenth release, Raitt has even more control in that it is her first attempt at producing herself. There is no indication anywhere that there is a novice in the control room. The sound is crisp and clean, and the mix is spot on. It’s a reminder of how rock and roll sounded before its love affair with mega base and electronic noise turned so much of pop music into mass-produced generic pabulum.
Her veteran savvy shows through in her knowledge that a solo artist is only as good as those surrounding her. She has played with the same band for most of the last decade. After hundreds of live shows, recording sessions, and just hanging around together, they seem to have come to an almost instinctual understanding of each other.
According to Raitt, their intent was to record each song on its first or second take to maintain spontaneity. You don’t need her assurances that this happened; the results speak for themselves. They manage to obtain that ultimate of rock and roll oxymorons: seamlessly tight and wonderfully loose simultaneously.
From Raitt’s seemingly effortless solos, the taut rhythms of the base and drums, and the interplay of keyboards and guitars the whole band is in perfect synchronicity. Whether a heartfelt ballad like the opening “I Will Not Be Broken” or the up tempo “God Was In The Water”, there is never a note out of place.
For anybody who has ever had even the slightest doubt about the talent of Bonnie Raitt, if this latest release, Souls Alike doesn’t persuade them of her genius, than they have to be deaf. While she may not get the recognition that some of her male contemporaries have garnered in the public eye, Bonnie Raitt is one of the premier rock/blues performers in North America right now.
Souls Alike will be in stores on September 13, 2005, and she will be launching a world tour in support on October 5th. For more information on tickets and tour dates go to Bonnie’s web site.
Here the tracks “I Will Not Be Broken,” “I Don’t Want Anything to Change,” “Deep Water” and “Two Lights In the Nighttime” for yourself here.