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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Bonnie Raitt: Home Plate


1) What Do You Want The Boy To Do; 2) Good Enough; 3) Run Like A Thief; 4) Fool Yourself; 5) My First Night Alone Without You; 6) Walk Out The Front Door; 7) Sugar Mama; 8) Pleasin' Each Other; 9) I'm Blowin' Away; 10) Your Sweet And Shiny Eyes.

All right, so even if «something» had truly died forever with the transition from Bonnie's first three albums to Streetlights, that does not necessarily mean she would not be able to still turn in a decent record from time to time. In the place of Jerry Ragovoy we now see Paul Rothchild, the legendary producer for The Doors — and, incidentally, also for the last Janis Joplin album; per­haps the Warner executives were secretly aspiring for the man to be able to dress Ms. Raitt up as a legitimate successor to Janis?

Well, not even the most astute producer could handle such a task, I guess, but one thing that was done right was to pull Bonnie out of that «introspective singer-non-songwriter» mode and get her to play a little rock'n'roll instead. Once again, there are no originals, and once again, most of the songs represent contemporary material, but the arrangements are more energetic and electric this time, and the album sounds more like a bawdy roots rock party than an intimate confession ses­sion, which is a good thing with Bonnie Raitt: as a bawdy roots-rocker, she is more interesting and involving than she is as a lonesome sensitive soul.

One noticeable thing about the album is how heavy it is on backing vocals (with at least a dozen supporting singers, including such luminosities as Emmylou Harris and — no shit! — Tom Waits himself listed in the credits, although back in 1975, I guess that his voice was still usable for «regular» backup purposes). This gives many of its blues-rock compositions a bit of a gospel/soul feel: indeed, the main hook of Bill Payne's ʽPleasin' Each Otherʼ, multiplied by the choral har­mony approach, sounds like a rip-off of Leon Russell's ʽSpace Captainʼ as done by Joe Cocker (with the "pleasin' each other, pleasin' each other can't be wrong" refrain replacing the original "learning to live together, learning to live together 'til we die"). But it is done very well all the same — Bonnie is not trying to compete with Cocker, entrancing her audience in the same sha­manistic-possessed manner, she is putting more emphasis on melody and build-up, and there is a nice balance between strength and tenderness in the end.

She even manages to «tame» those proto-disco rhythms: ʽGood Enoughʼ, with a bouncy groove and a funky Stevie Wonder-like clavinet line, is a tremendous improvement over ʽYou Got To Be Ready For Loveʼ — no strings, a tightly coordinated performance, and a vocal that asserts strong personality over sentimental cliché. But even this one does not hold a candle to material on which the lady gets to play slide guitar: ʽSugar Mamaʼ (a gender-based remake of Texas blues rocker Glen Clark's ʽSugar Daddyʼ) is a delicious slab of blues-rock feminism — if she does not do «proper» female urban blues no more, at least this contemporary revision still hearkens back to that old independent spirit, and with a deliciously aggressive slide tone to boot.

There is even a touching ballad here: I heartily recommend J. D. Souther's ʽRun Like A Thiefʼ, which starts out quite generically, but then delves into one of those tugging vocal hooks that you either fall for (and subsequently become vulnerable to at least some of the songs by Linda Ronstadt and/or the Eagles) or stay immune to ­— I confess to liking the notes she holds on the "run in the night, run in the night, run in the night like a thief" chorus, or, at least, feeling like mentioning them, which is already a big plus when you're talking generic country-rock balladry. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about ʽMy First Night Alone Without Youʼ and ʽI'm Blowin' Awayʼ (was the latter responsible for the silly album cover, or was that Bonnie Raitt's idea of how «going over the rainbow» would look like?) — those sound exactly like all the in­stantly forgettable, wishy-washy stuff on Streetlights.

Still, even with all the filler, there are enough quality performances here to merit a weak thumbs up — most importantly, the album feels more loyal to the true essence of Bonnie Raitt than its predecessor, including the important component of having fun, of which she had so much on her first three records. I'd like to see more of that fun coming back, but I guess we have to be grate­ful for what there is, and give out special thanks to Rothchild. For all we know, they could have cut the budget and limit the sessions to just Bonnie and her acoustic guitar, and for all her charms, she ain't no Nick Drake, let alone Syd Barrett. 


  1. Re: the album cover

    That cover has nothing to do with being "over the rainbow", it' probably fair to guess the color splashes were added to fill space and enliven the cover. The whole cover design is based on the title, " Homeplate ", a baseball turn. You can see Bonnie Raitt wearing a baseball jersey and she isn't flying or floating, but supposed to be sliding towards the homeplate which is drawn on the left-hand side to score a home run.
    BTW, I quite like this album, it has a nice lilting groove very familiar to Little Feat, which is not surprising considering her collaborators here.

    1. Thanks! Not difficult to see I know jack shit about baseball, but good to know we share similar feelings on the album all the same.