BONNIE RAITT: ROAD TESTED (1995)
1) Thing Called Love; 2) Three Time Loser; 3) Love Letter; 4) Never Make Your Move Too Soon; 5) Something To Talk About; 6) Matters Of The Heart; 7) Shake A Little; 8) Have A Heart; 9) Love Me Like A Man; 10) The Kokomo Medley; 11) Louise; 12) Dimming Of The Day; 13) Longing In Their Hearts; 14) Come To Me; 15) Love Sneakin' Up On You; 16) Burning Down The House; 17) I Can't Make You Love Me; 18) Feeling Of Falling; 19) I Believe I'm In Love With You; 20) Rock Steady; 21) My Opening Farewell; 22) Angel From Montgomery.
From a logical perspective, live Bonnie Raitt should always be better than studio Bonnie Raitt — less gloss, more energy, better opportunities to let herself really go on that slide, in short, everything to celebrate the spirit rather than worship the form. Which, of course, begs for the question: why wait so long? Surely a live recording from the old «drunken days» would have captured a little more fire, not to mention a little higher percentage of good songs?..
The answer is that in the 1970s, Bonnie Raitt was not as much «part of the machine» as she became with Nick Of Time, and since she did not sell that much, nobody, herself least of all, probably thought that a live album could help raise any serious extra cash. But now, with three commercially successful albums in a row under her belt, a live follow-up would seem like the most obvious thing. Precautions were taken, however — Bonnie Raitt on her own could hardly have sold as much as Bonnie Raitt and Friends. And if old-timers like Jackson Browne and R&B veterans Ruth and Charles Brown are not necessarily going to cut it, then relatively recent chart toppers like Bruce Hornsby and Bryan Adams sure will.
Even the setlist has been constructed with almost mathematical precision. Four songs from her latest, for promotional reasons. Three songs each from Nick Of Time and Luck Of The Draw — her biggest commercial successes to date. Three more songs from Sweet Forgiveness, the only album from her past that could be called commercially successful, to a degree (odd enough, no ʽRunawayʼ, though). And a small bunch of songs, usually one per album, from her earliest period when she was still interesting as an individual artist, so that nobody could accuse Road Tested of not presenting an accurate chronological portrait of Bonnie Raitt, all the accents dutifully lodged in their right places.
Big surprise of the day involves the band offering a lively take on Talking Heads' ʽBurning Down The Houseʼ, even though none of the Heads is guesting on the recording (which, by the way, was made on July 11-19, 1995, at the Paramount Theater in Oakland). The groove is lifted reasonably well, but Bonnie Raitt replacing David Byrne is a bit like Al Gore replacing Woody Allen — totally different personalities, and if you take the vocal atmosphere of irony and paranoia away from the song, the song becomes pointless. And, with all due respect, you couldn't find an artist less capable of playing absurd character roles than the totally straightforward Bonnie Raitt. In all honesty, I'd rather see her doing ʽClose To The Edgeʼ than this.
Anyway, getting right to the bottom of it, the big deal about Road Tested is that you get more spontaneity and more slide guitar solos, with ʽKokomoʼ, for me, being the obvious high point of the show — but honestly, just about every song from these last three albums is enhanced when you don't have your engineer diligently smoothing out all the sharp edges. This is never good enough to make me fall in love with any of these songs (and no spontaneity can save ʽHave A Heartʼ), but good enough to make me forget for an occasional moment or so just how much Bonnie Raitt had become the walking/sliding symbol of adult contemporary. Unfortunately, as soon as Bryan Adams walks out on stage to duet with the lady on their collectively written ʽRock Steadyʼ, that old nasty feeling kicks back with all its might. And just how many songs titled ʽRock Steadyʼ does the world need, I wonder?..
One final moment, though: if you want to try a bite of this anyway, try to lay your hands on the DVD edition rather than the one-disc or two-disc CD edition. Somehow, Bonnie's self-assured strutting, mighty red hair, sexy black outfit, and visual slide technique all seem much, much more cool than whatever you get from just the audio channels. Much of that visual image is in common with certain female country music superstars, of course, but she is still on the bluesier side of things, and at least there ain't no flag-waving or anything like that. It's also fascinating how her less-than-stunning looks circa 1972 had paid off so splendidly, as she hardly looks one day older in 1995 than she did more than twenty years earlier. Totally stable mediocrity can be worth some respect, too — although in a better world, Bonnie Raitt might have become the female equivalent of a Rory Gallagher, and earn herself much more respect than that. Less money, though.