BONNIE RAITT: TAKIN' MY TIME (1973)
1) You've Been In Love Too Long; 2) I Gave My Love A Candle; 3) Let Me In; 4) Everybody's Crying Mercy; 5) Cry Like A Rainstorm; 6) Wah She Go Do; 7) I Feel The Same; 8) I Thought I Was A Child; 9) Write Me A Few Of Your Lines/Kokomo Blues; 10) Guilty.
Third time's a charm? Actually, all three times had their charm: Takin' My Time is the last piece of the «original Bonnie Raitt trilogy», stylistically and ideologically continuing the old trend and, in some people's opinions, perfecting it to the highest possible degree. (In Bonnie's own opinion, too, as far as I know, although she has her own personal reasons — at the time, she was romantically involved with Lowell George of Little Feat, who is also contributing to this record and was even considered for primary producer at one time).
The credit list for this record is even longer than for Give It Up, and involves some stellar players: besides Lowell George and some of the old regulars like Freebo, we have Taj Mahal on guitar, Ernie Watts (mostly known to the layman for his Rolling Stones association in the early 1980s) on sax, both Jim Keltner and Earl Palmer on drums, and even Van Dyke Parks, the creative soul behind the Beach Boys' SMiLe project, on keyboards; as usual, I am not exactly sure who is playing on which of the tracks, but on the whole, Takin' My Time does indeed sound awesome much of the time — as far as «regular» early 1970s roots-rock records with a soft edge go, you would be hard pressed to find anything more tasteful than this.
However, the chief virtue of the album, once again, is its excellent eclecticism and stylistic balance. Although pre-war material is no longer present (unless you technically count the Mississippi Fred McDowell cover as «pre-war style», even though Fred himself was a post-war artist), Bonnie's Motown vibe is still active, as is evident from the opening number, a brashly swinging, funky version of Martha and the Vandellas' ʽYou've Been In Love Too Longʼ. To this, she adds a brief flirtation with Pete Townshend's favorite, Mose Allison (ʽEverybody's Crying Mercyʼ, here arranged as a slightly threatening «midnight blues» number with creepy harmonica lines from Taj Mahal); a quick affair with the calypso groove, in the guise of a suitably arrogant and amusing take on Calypso Rose's ʽWah She Go Doʼ; and a rejuvenation of the old fast tempo doo-wop hit ʽLet Me Inʼ, which must have been all the rage when The Sensations first introduced it in 1962, but had, of course, been completely forgotten since.
And these are not «just» covers, mind you — they have all been reworked, in a good way, actually, in different, not always predictable, ways. The Martha and the Vandellas song is seriously funkified, getting an extra snappy edge that the original, fairly formulaic, Motown arrangement never had. The Mose Allison song gets this serious dark boost from the thick bassline and Taj Mahal's harmonica — Bonnie understands the «eerie» vibe of Mr. Allison and does her best to enhance it. As for ʽLet Me Inʼ, this is where she really unlocks her pre-war vaudeville closet, letting out a whole merry brass section to cheer up the speakeasy atmosphere: again, the song gets a whole new layer of meaning that the original never sought.
As for the more contemporary material, a few of the songs unpleasantly point the way to the commercial blandness of albums to come, but this is rather an accidental development: on the other hand, you have stuff like Chris Smither's ʽI Feel The Sameʼ, a «modern blues» with a terrific arrangement — particularly the screechy, angry, but tastefully reserved slide guitar lead parts, which I really hope were played by Bonnie herself. Eventually, the song develops into one of those late-night jams, with several acoustic and electric guitars trading gruff short phrases — not exactly Crosby, Stills, & Young level, but fairly comparable if you make the necessary adjustments for «soft mode» rather than «hard mode».
So when the album ends with a slightly-more-serious-than-necessary reading of Randy Newman's ʽGuiltyʼ (Bonnie has no chance of preserving the author's sense of irony and deeply ensconced «Jewish sarcasm», but she does good about preserving the world-weary attitude), it's almost like, «yeah, she finally drove her point all the way home»; the point in question, of course, being the ability to come out as conservative (or, rather, «preservationist» in a Kinksy sense of the word) and innovative at the same time — «new skin for the old ceremony», as the title of a certain Leonard Cohen album goes. Oh well, I guess it never hurt anybody to have an affair with a guy as classy as Lowell George, but never mind whether this consideration has any impact on the strength of this here thumbs up evaluation. Just enjoy the music while you can, because this would be the last time that it would be so tastefully enjoyable.