Saturday, December 29, 2012


In her cover of Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down The Line" (one of the highlights of Slipstream), Bonnie Raitt sings "You've been as constant as the northern star," which could actually describe her work.  She's never let us down.

In the late '80s when she experienced her very incredible "comeback" starting with Nick Of Time, she actually got more popular than she ever had been before. I think she was great in the '70s, but with Nick Of Time, she really found her voice: she's a great blues interpreter, but she's not a blues pioneer.  What she is a pioneer in, is singing about what middle-age is like.  In many ways, that's a lot harder, so few people have been able to do it.

She doesn't always write her songs, but Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro and Glenn Close don't always write their lines either: they just make you believe them.  That's what Bonnie does so well.  Also, she can smoke nearly anyone on guitar. I remember watching a Rolling Stones DVD where Bonnie joined them on stage for "Shine A Light," but she was only singing, not playing guitar.  I thought that might have been because Keith and Ron didn't want to get blown off of their own stage.  I mean, can you imagine them having Clapton come on stage to sing a song but not play guitar?

Anyway, on Slipstream, Bonnie uses the more stripped down sound she's used since her Don Was trilogy of albums (all of which had a bit more of the "adult contemporary" sound of the late '80s/early '90s). And she picks some great songs.  "Right Down The Line" is amazing.  A '70s soft-rock classic, when you listen to Bonnie singing it, it gets heavier.  The video actually adds to it.  It shows couples that seem to have been together for a long time - and without making a big deal of it, some of those couples are same sex.  It's one of the lovliest videos you'll see.  Check it out:

But Bonnie's record isn't just about one song.  I also love the fact that she covered not one, but two songs from one of my favorite Dylan albums, 1997's Time Out Of Mind.  She does haunting versions of   "Million Miles" and "Standing In The Doorway."  There's also a song written by Loundon Wainwright (father of Rufus) called "You Can't Fail Me Now."  I never heard his version, but I can't believe it would cut like hers.

One of Bonnie's songwriting contributions to the album is "Down To You," which is pretty rocking and has a cool swagger to it.  And I guess that's how life is: there's heartbreak, but there's also long relationships that last (i.e. "Right Down The Line"). There's aging and there's sadness and there's still swagger. Bonnie seems to always be able to capture all of that.  Not in a rock-star mythologizing way -- or even a blue singer mythologizing way -- but in a way that real people actually experience.  That's why I think she resonates so much.  And of course, because of her gorgeous voice, her badass guitar playing and her impeccable song selection.  All of that is present on Slipstream.  This isn't a record that got too much attention in the mainstream, and that's a shame.  If I had my way, this would have been nominated for a ton of Grammys, not just the Americana one.

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