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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bonnie Raitt: The Glow

BONNIE RAITT: THE GLOW (1979)

1) I Thank You; 2) Your Good Thing (Is About To End); 3) Standin' By The Same Old Love; 4) Sleep's Dark And Silent Gate; 5) The Glow; 6) Bye Bye Baby; 7) The Boy Can't Help It; 8) (I Could Have Been Your) Best Old Friend; 9) You're Gonna Get What's Coming; 10) (Goin') Wild For You Baby.

Whenever we are dealing with more than one stage in the career of the illustrious Bonnie Raitt, we are dealing with nuances within nuances and subtleties within subtleties — but speaking in terms of nuanced nuances and subtle subtleties, I think I like The Glow one subtle nuance more than I like Sweet Forgiveness. Perhaps because it's got a bit more of that «sandpaper» edge to it. Or maybe the leading lady just got me covered and trapped with that reproaching stare on the front cover — looking every bit the same at thirty as she'd later look at sixty, and communicating a «what the heck do you want from me, anyway?» kind of message, as if I ever wanted anything from her in the first place — or anybody else, for that matter.

A more serious reason might be a better playlist: unlike Sweet Forgiveness, The Glow tempora­rily returns us to a better balance between contemporary songwriting and the old classics — no, no Victoria Spivey covers, but some good old-fashioned soul, rock'n'roll, and Motown pop here, nestled among the obligatory James Taylorisms (actually, Jackson Brownisms and Robert Palmerisms, to be much more precise). Still another factor may be a near-complete change of the playing team — trimmed down to about 12 people (that ain't much for Bonnie) and consisting almost entirely of first-rate players on the market: Danny Kortchmar and Waddy Wachtel on guitars, Paul Butterfield on harmonica, guys from Little Feat, and even David Sanborn comes along to contribute a sax solo or two.

There are only three ballads out of ten, and all three are decent. Browne's ʽSleep's Dark And Silent Gateʼ begins to redeem itself already with its title and ends with an inspired, tasteful and highly lyrical guitar break from I don't-know-who (Danny? Waddy? Diddy Wah Diddy?). The lengthy title track, dealing with the perils of drinking (all too actual for Bonnie at the time) is nothing to really write home about in ecstasy, but it is nice that they arrange it as smooth mid­night jazz rather than orchestrated schlock, so that the most prominent thing about the song are its wobbly basslines — always a cool thing in ballads. And the closing ʽWild For You Babyʼ, as poor as it is as an original composition, has that slightly distorted guitar lead improvising various figures around Bonnie's croon, again, adding some much-needed «earthiness».

The punchy stuff includes a quirky gender twist as Bonnie remakes ʽThe Girl Can't Help Itʼ into ʽThe Boy Can't Help Itʼ, grinning at her male audience with sarcastic slide guitar runs ("you know the boy can't help it, he was born to please" must have been particularly humiliating for all them male chauvinists), but overall, the punchy stuff is there just to be punchy — with the ope­ning drum roll for the old Sam & Dave hit ʽI Thank Youʼ, Raitt springs immediately into action, and this «cut the crap, let's get right down to business» attitude is well felt throughout the record, whether she is putting the 1970s rock stamp on Mary Wells' ʽBye Bye Babyʼ or asserting some lean 'n' mean personality on ʽBest Old Friendʼ. Most importantly, she is now milking that slide guitar sound with a tight grip, and adjusting her own singing voice to it — together, they form a very natural-sounding sneery duo, much better united than anytime in the past.

On the whole, this one earns a much more assured thumbs up from me than its predecessor, but, of course, far be it from me to fool anybody: The Glow is not a «great» album by any means, just as fine a record as it ever gets in the vicinity of the middle of the road, and only really recommen­dable if you are a big sucker for that clean, smoothly engineered, technically precise and humbly soulful roots-rock sound of the 1970s. It is somewhat of a miracle, though, in a way, how they manage to be so completely dismissive of all the musical and technological innovations of the New Wave era — so get it if you are a certified conservative in life, too.

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