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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bonnie Raitt: Green Light


1) Keep This Heart In Mind; 2) River Of Tears; 3) Can't Get Enough; 4) Willya Wontcha; 5) Let's Keep It Between Us; 6) Me And The Boys; 7) I Can't Help Myself; 8) Baby Come Back; 9) Talk To Me; 10) Green Lights.

Another interesting change of pace here — reflecting the end of the Seventies and, in a way, the end of the singer-songwriter era, Green Light is a simple, ballsy, and ever so slightly New Wave-influenced rock'n'roll album. Once again, the entire songwriting and recording team has been shifted. The new producer is Rob Fraboni, best known for working on various roots-rock projects of the previous decade (such as The Band's Last Waltz and Eric Clapton's No Reason To Cry; not coincidentally, The Band's own Richard Manuel gets credited in the liner notes for background vocals), and the most notorious instrumentalist on the album is Faces' veteran Ian McLagan, who, I think, is chiefly responsible for the somewhat nonchalant, barroom-boogie attitude that rules on Green Light.

For all of Bonnie's «excesses» of that era, brought about by heavy drinking, and for all of her desire to let it all hang down for a bit, the record is still quite reserved and delicately polished — no use expecting sloppiness or high levels of distortion and fuzz from the lady. However, as you can easily see from the title track, she is not above allowing modern production techniques (in­cluding a little bit of electronic treatment), so that today, ʽGreen Lightsʼ is quite easily datable back to the early 1980s. This is not a problem, though — the whole album pretends to little more than casual lightweight entertainment, for which aims the production is adequate.

There are almost no ballads on the album: the closest thing is probably ʽRiver Of Tearsʼ, contri­buted by long-term partner Eric Kaz, but even that song's melodic base is blues-rockish — in fact, the opening guitar lines sound like they were lifted directly off some alternate version of ʽHonky Tonk Womenʼ, open G-tuning and all; it is only the overall broken-hearted sentimentality of the lyrics and the slight whiff of angry tragedy in Raitt's vocals that would allow to classify the song as a «heartstring-puller», if there were any need for such a classification. Everything else just ranges from straightahead rock'n'roll to dynamic Motown-style R&B (ʽI Can't Help Myselfʼ).

Interestingly, one of the exceptions from that formula, ʽLet's Keep It Between Usʼ is a Bob Dylan reject that he occasionally performed in concert but never recorded in the studio — no idea if he could be able to flesh it out into some­thing more exciting than the slow 12-bar blues on this album, but before I took a look at the liner notes, I had not the smallest inkling to associate the song with Bob: clearly, Bonnie is much better at capturing the spirit of pre-war black female blues singers than nailing the Zimmerman essence (it may be a good thing, after all, that they never got her involved in the 30th anniversary show in 1992 even if, on the surface, she'd make a far more natural choice than Sinead O'Connor). It's just boring.

The speedy numbers, though, like ʽMe And The Boysʼ or ʽTalk To Meʼ, are catchy, harmless fun. Curiously, ʽTalk To Meʼ, opening with a couple of chords nicked from Blondie's ʽOne Way Or Anotherʼ and then quickly turning into a «post-disco dance-rock» number, was written by Jerry Lynn Williams, the same guy who wrote hit songs for Clapton in the mid-1980s (ʽForever Manʼ, ʽPretendingʼ, ʽRunning On Faithʼ — the latter one was actually quite good), but ʽTalk To Meʼ sounds most closely to the one song that Williams did not write for Clapton, namely, ʽTearing Us Apartʼ, from which I conclude that Williams not only wrote songs for Clapton, but also inspired Clapton to write songs in the style of Williams. It's a pretty complicated network out there in the world of show-biz, as you can tell.

Considering that the band behind Bonnie's back is competent and tasteful, and that Bonnie's own vocal style is perfectly compatible with barroom rock (strictly reserved to those barrooms that do not let their clients throw up on the counter and pass out on the floor), I have no problems about a friendly thumbs up for the album, despite its expectable problems — the four lines from ʽMe And The Boysʼ pretty much sum up everything about what's right and what's wrong here: "Me and my buddies just like to go / We'll have fun, everybody knows / We don't fuss and we never cry / We just groove, taking in the sights". No fuss and no crying, indeed. Very cautious groove, too, but some new sights are definitely taken in. And — no doubt about it — any relations with the boys are restricted to the purely platonic sphere. But then, you don't always have to imitate Lemmy in order to play good rock'n'roll.

1 comment:

  1. I suspect your warmth to this record might also be due to its similarity to Ron Wood/Early 80s Stones.