BONNIE RAITT: LONGING IN THEIR HEARTS (1994)
1) Love Sneakin' Up On You; 2) Longing In Their Hearts; 3) You; 4) Cool, Clear Water; 5) Circle Dance; 6) I Sho Do; 7) Dimming Of The Day; 8) Feeling Of Falling; 9) Steal Your Heart Away; 10) Storm Warning; 11) Hell To Pay; 12) Shadow Of Doubt.
By the mid-1990s, Bonnie's sound gradually returned into the river bed of «straight» country-blues and blues-rock, cleaned up from the excesses of «synthetic» production. In fact, the only song on Longing In Their Hearts, her third album with Don Was, that would adequately fit the bill of «adult contemporary» is ʽYouʼ — for some reason, her biggest hit in the UK. Silky jazz-fusion bass and a hazy screen of synthesizers are responsible for this, even though the song would have sounded much better if things were kept down to just the acoustic guitar and accordeon; as a matter of fact, it does have quite a lovely vocal part, with Bonnie dropping her trademark rasp on the chorus and showing that she could have become quite an impressive falsetto crooner, had she wanted to. Fortunately, she did not, but nobody minds a little bit of falsetto.
Everything else is kept clean, tasteful, professional, and as for excitement, well, you now know very well what you are going to get. Surprisingly, it is not the fully arranged, rhythmic, «energetic-aggressive» blues-rockers this time that attract most of the attention, but the stripped-down balladeering stuff: as Bonnie ages, her vocal style becomes more and more sensitive and even sensual on the tender songs, whereas the «don't-mess-around-with-me» schtick gets less and less convincing. The best track on the album is arguably her cover of Richard Thompson's ʽDimming Of The Dayʼ — just a couple of acoustic guitars (some keyboards still make their way into the song midway through, but are kept down), some backing vocals, and wonderfully dramatic modulation throughout. The second best track is the swamp-blues ʽShadow Of Doubtʼ that closes the record — nothing extraordinary, but a nice enough synchronization of her voice with the slide guitar and harmonica overtones.
As soon as the band steps in, though, the whole thing becomes just another routine country-rock experience, the kind that you can get plenty of in just about any big or small American town that can allow itself to wine and dine some well-trained musicians. The title track; ʽI Sho Doʼ; ʽHell To Payʼ; and the record's biggest hit, ʽLove Sneakin' Up On Youʼ, all follow the same formula. ʽLoveʼ has the catchiest chorus of 'em all, but "it ain't nothing new", and, worse than that, it ain't nothing particularly credible. Everybody sounds professional, nobody sounds particularly inspired — the message is delivered with the tone of a very boring college professor, completely disinterested in explaining a potentially exciting subject.
As usual, most of the mainstream reviews raved on about this one, though — and I guess that if you're in business for this kind of album, it would be hard to think of a better one. Everything is so perfectly in its right place and so perfectly «normal», one is either bound to love this silly or be bored to death. As much as certain people hate the solo career of Eric Clapton, at least that guy had it somehow going up and falling down, switching from relatively exciting highs to abysmal lows: with Bonnie, we have this technically unimpeachable formula where, at a certain point, you actually begin secretly wishing for an embarrassment — a techno beat with Autotune? a lengthy rap interlude? a duet with Montserrat Caballé? anything, just to keep the boredom away. Then you come back to your senses, of course, but that does not make the record any friendlier. Or, rather, it is already way too friendly to be any good.