BONNIE RAITT: SOULS ALIKE (2005)
1) I Will Not Be Broken; 2) God Was In The Water; 3) Love On One Condition; 4) So Close; 5) Trinkets; 6) Crooked Crown; 7) Unnecessarily Mercenary; 8) I Don't Want Anything To Change; 9) Deep Water; 10) Two Lights In The Nighttime; 11) The Bed I Made.
There's a little less tepid funk and wishy-washy adult contemporary on Souls Alike than on Silver Lining — and a little bit more blues and jazz; consequently, it marks a (at least temporary) return to Dullsville from Offensivetown. There might even be a small handful of relatively decent songs for those who normally despise all forms of «soft rock». The problem is, 2005 is not the kind of year where anybody could have a «change of heart» concerning anything that might be done by the likes of Bonnie Raitt, and a detailed discussion of any such album could only be of interest to hardcore fans with a penchant for distinguishing between the «fifty shades of grey».
Not addressing that category, we shall keep it very brief here. Randall Bramblett's ʽGod Was In The Waterʼ is a pretty good song — dark, unsettling country-blues, well adorned here with bitterly, but rather unsentimentally weeping organs, wah-wahs, and swampy slides, and even the lyrics are good, finding a fresh angle for the old perspective: "God was in the water that day... / Castin' out a line to the darkness / Castin' out a line but no one's biting". And Bonnie's bitterish vocal tone is practically perfect for this particular setting.
Emory Joseph's ʽTrinketsʼ is another standout: introspective nostalgia without the obligatory sappiness, sort of a «talking blues» (at times, coming close to «rapping blues») with a bit of musical muscle, not particularly catchy, but each of Bonnie's bitter dry "when I was a kid..." verses has a whiff of intrigue. I mean, with a little bit of imagination you could see Lou Reed doing a song like this, and it's a rare Bonnie Raitt song that allows you to cast such a projection. Nicely fluent piano and slide dialog in the outro, too.
Finally, there is Jon Cleary's ʽUnnecessarily Mercenaryʼ, a sly, but big-hearted New Orleanian romp that could actually benefit from a brass section — but the well-worded chorus remains memorable even without any extra support. Cleary himself plays the piano solo, and he pretty much owns the song (as well as any other song here where he is prominent enough), being a well schooled disciple of the Professor Longhair / Dr. John school of Mardi Gras Keyboards. As usual, just a tad more energy and wildness couldn't have hurt, but it's still fun.
The rest is hardly worth a mention — blues and ballads, gently rippling through the air without generating much excitement. The trip-hop beats on ʽDeep Waterʼ are an intentional «modernistic» nod that fails for that exact reason (do it because it's good, not because it's a special gesture that puts a chronological seal on the album). The final number, ʽThe Bed I Madeʼ, is a moody jazz ballad written by David Batteau where Bonnie tries to be Madeleine Peyroux, but she doesn't have the voice or the knack for it — so at least there's more going on here than on ʽWounded Heartʼ, but it is still a very (appropriately) sleepy conclusion for an overall sleepy album. So just borrow ʽGod Was In The Waterʼ for your «Contemporary Roots-Rock Nuggets» compilation and ʽUnnecessarily Mercenaryʼ for your «New Orleans Lives!» compilation and feel free to forget the rest if you feel like forgetting the rest.