BONNIE RAITT: GIVE IT UP (1972)
1) Give It Up Or Let Me Go; 2) Nothing Seems To Matter; 3) I Know; 4) If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody; 5) Love Me Like A Man; 6) Too Long At The Fair; 7) Under The Falling Sky; 8) You Got To Know How; 9) You Told Me Baby; 10) Love Has No Pride.
No attempts at tweaking the formula here, just tightening it up by hiring even better musicians, writing one more song than the last time around, and possibly playing a bit more electric guitar, too, although it is hard to guess who is playing what without the individual credits for each song, considering that no less than six different guitar players are listed in the notes. These are all just subtle nuances, though, so do not let the album cover shift (from dark living room to sunny countryside) fool you into imagining that something major has changed.
Bonnie's songwriting abilities have not improved by much — and, to tell the truth, they would never improve by much — but you still gotta admire somebody who has the gall to write a song in the near-authentic style of 1920s vaudeville (ʽGive It Up Or Let Me Goʼ) and then immediately follow it up with a song written in the near-authentic style of Carole King (ʽNothing Seems To Matterʼ — transpose that guitar melody to piano and you'd be able to sneak the song on Tapestry without anyone noticing). The third song, ʽYou Told Me Babyʼ, is written in the near-authentic style of blandly-friendly Californian blues-rock, I think, but it is really not so much a «song» as an excuse to trade some classy guitar licks between two or three guitarists in the coda.
The covers, like before, are split between forgotten golden oldies (Sippie Wallace's ʽYou Got To Know Howʼ), classic R&B (Barbara George's ʽI Knowʼ), and contemporary material, with the balance seriously tipping now in favor of the latter — not necessarily to the benefit of good taste, since there is just a tad too much sentimental melodrama here; certainly ending the record with an honest-to-goodness, but way too emotionally puffed-up ʽLove Has No Prideʼ is not a great choice compared with ʽWomen Be Wiseʼ on Bonnie Raitt. Still, at least she is still diligently splicing quotas: other than sentimental ballads, there are also tough blues-rockers (ʽLove Me Like A Manʼ) and upbeat country-rockers (Jackson Browne's ʽUnder The Falling Skyʼ), and ʽToo Long At The Fairʼ is at least one song that transcends sentimental clichés and, aided with some lush singing and a carefully engineered crescendo, rises to nearly epic heights.
But on the whole, it seems clear that Bonnie Raitt's second album predictably confirms what was already suggested by the first one — namely, that she is a competent, likable, respectable blues mama who is not afraid to dig all the way down into the roots and the original functions of the blues (one of which is just sheer entertainment), and that everything else, whether she likes it or not, comes across as more of a concession to modernity. ʽGive It Up Or Let Me Goʼ, with its self-confident swagger, jazzy flavor, and cocky slide guitar playing, is the album's best performance, the rigid 12-bar blues of ʽLove Me Like A Manʼ, which she sort of sings like a man, comes second, and Wallace's ʽYou Got To Know Howʼ, putting the final touch on Bonnie's fully solidified «wise woman» image, comes third. The more emotional and psychological she gets, though, the less use there seems to be for this music — in light mode, there's always Carole King, and in heavy (emotionally, not musically, that is), there's always Joni Mitchell.
Nevertheless, the album is consistently listenable: with so many people around and such relatively complex, yet seemingly spontaneous, arrangements, Give It Up generates a loose, good-time, friendly atmosphere that not many «generic» blues-rock records can offer with such ease. Additionally, you get Paul Butterfield himself blowing his harmonica on a few tracks (ʽUnder The Falling Skyʼ), and some really tight brass players jazzifying the proceedings along the way. So, nothing too special in the grand scheme of things, and not even necessarily an improvement on her first try, but still well worth an empathic thumbs up, I'd say.