BONNIE RAITT: SILVER LINING (2002)
1) Fools Game; 2) I Can't Help You Now; 3) Silver Lining; 4) Time Of Our Lives; 5) Gnawin' On It; 6) Monkey Business; 7) Wherever You May Be; 8) Valley Of Pain; 9) Hear Me Lord; 10) No Gettin' Over You; 11) Back Around; 12) Wounded Heart.
«Raitt's singing has never been more finely tuned, especially on... the final track, ʽWounded Heartʼ, a breathtaking duet recorded in one take with keyboardist Benmont Tench; after nailing it, Raitt reportedly fled the studio, moved to tears; any second attempt proved both undoable and unnecessary» (Robert L. Doerschuk, All-Music Guide; I have not been able to find additional confirmation, but no clear reason to disbelieve the story).
This pretty much tells us all we need to know, because ʽWounded Heartʼ, a piano ballad written by contemporary singer-songwriter Jude Johnstone (who also included it on her own debut album which came out twenty days after Silver Lining), is the very definition of «trivial»: the entire song rides on exactly one endlessly repeated and not particularly fresh (to say the least) musical phrase, and the lyrics go like this: "If you listen you can hear the angels' wings / Up above our heads so near they are hovering / Waiting to reach out for love when it falls apart / When it cannot rise above a wounded heart". You could pardon bad wording if it were set to glorious music, or you could pardon the boring music if it were accompanying brilliantly stringed verbal phrasing, but damn, this is bad — generic, corny singer-songwriter fluff that doesn't even begin to approach the level of some of Bonnie's old ballads like ʽLouiseʼ, let alone any really high standards of ballad writing. ʽWounded Heartʼ? More like ʽWooden Heartʼ if you ask me.
In other words, the relative «comeback» that she had with Fundamental has pretty much ended, as we see Ms. Raitt return to the comfortable territory of soft-rock / adult contemporary. The entire album consists of bland ballads, limp rockers with a funky underbelly but no energy whatsoever, and somnambulant folk-pop, completely devoid of hooks, fresh ideas, or individuality. The miriad of players and contributing songwriters are completely unrecognizable to me — seeing as how I have little interest in this particular marketline — and not a single song here stimulates me into getting to know any one of them better (I did skim through a couple tracks off that debut album by Jude Johnston — my bad).
In the middle of it all, though, unexpectedly comes ʽGnawin' On Itʼ, a blues-rocker with a dirty, distorted rhythm track reminiscent of Paul Burlison's playing in the Johnny Burnette trio — in other words, a real good sound as compared to everything else on this flaccid affair, and in order to match it, Bonnie digs deep and recovers some of her trademark gritty huskiness. The slide work on the track is also good and merges fine with Steve Berlin's sax — what I'm a-guessin' is that Los Lobos had their hand here, as well as Roy Rogers, a fine guitar player who had first made his name with John Lee Hooker in the 1980s... well, all right, some people with a sense of taste actually were involved in the making of this record. Too bad they only made one track sound like it had a decent pair of musical balls attached.
Do not get me wrong: softness, tenderness, emotionality, sensitivity, vulnerability are all very much welcome on a Bonnie Raitt record, or on anybody else's record — as long as they go hand in hand with some melodic or vocal move that is at least remotely interesting, unlike the dissipated atmospheric phrasing of, say, the title track, which combines a hell of a lot of different string, keyboard, and percussion instruments into a melting pot where they never come together into anything coherent or more-than-superficially-pretty. Worse still, many of these songs try to rock (ʽFools Gameʼ, ʽMonkey Businessʼ) — but why would you want to listen to Bonnie Raitt going middle-of-the-road funky, when you can listen to, say, Prince going all the way? What would you be — afraid to enjoy somebody going all the way? Maybe that is what «adult contemporary» is all about — people too scared to turn their emotional stove up all the way, or it might, you know, blow up and hurt somebody.
Total thumbs down — and I am not taking that pun-based hint from the match between the album title and the «silver lining» foxily flashing out of the ongoing general redness of the lady's hair. If this is her way of communicating to us that one need not be afraid of aging, and that aging only brings on more wisdom and a sharpened sense of responsibility (towards one's fans, for instance), I'll opt for a whole load of irresponsible stupidity instead.