BONNIE RAITT: SLIPSTREAM (2012)
1) Used To Rule The World; 2) Right Down The Line; 3) Million Miles; 4) You Can't Fail Me Now; 5) Down To You; 6) Take My Love With You; 7) Not Cause I Wanted To; 8) Ain't Gonna Let You Go; 9) Marriage Made In Hollywood; 10) Split Decision; 11) Standing In The Doorway; 12) God Only Knows.
Odd, but I like this album. It isn't altogether different from any other Bonnie Raitt album, but I like it more than anything she's offered us in... let's see here... scroll up... scroll up... scroll... scroll... more scroll... okay, Green Light was the last time I gave her a thumbs up, wasn't it? well, looks like the most sympathetic (cautiously refraining from using the word «best») record she gave us in thirty years. Quite a record, that.
Good choice of co-producer in Joe Henry (never mind that the guy is married to Madonna's sister: his production credits include veterans like Mose Allison, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and Solomon Burke, as well as Aimee Mann's The Forgotten Arm, so he's cool by me). Relatively small band mostly consisting of Bonnie regulars (the Hutchinson-Fataar rhythm section, etc.) and some surprising guests like experimental guitar guru Bill Frisell. Very few signs of adult contemporary. But most importantly — there's a touch of sharpness here throughout, chasing out the flabbiness and genericity whose shadow haunted Bonnie's work since Nick Of Time (and some acid-tongued folks would say, since she first stepped into the studio).
It is something on which you cannot put a finger at all — just a pinch of crispness in the vocals, bitterness in the playing, a slightly grumblier tone for the electric rhythm guitar, a basic instinctive feeling that is slowly generated out of a hundred tiny nuances. It may have something to do with the lady's age: as she hops over the 60-year barrier and feels that two thirds, or maybe more than two thirds of the way have passed by, a sniff of the imminent scythe (cynically speaking) sometimes works wonders for the artist. Hardly a coincidence, wouldn't you say, that she covers here not one, but two songs from Dylan's Time Out Of Mind — probably the most quintessential «death harbinger» album from a rock veteran? None of the two are ʽNot Dark Yetʼ, but that would have been way too obvious.
However, Slipstream on the whole is not a slow, moody, soft-textured record. ʽUsed To Rule The Worldʼ is not a particularly optimistic title for the album's opening song — indeed, written once again by Randall Bramblett, it is a set of bitter thoughts on the failed illusions of the baby-boomer generation — but in its own restrained way, it rocks, and Raitt spits out the angry summarizations ("Your life had come and gone / Now you're mystified / Standing with the rest of us / Who used to rule the world") as if the blame were to be placed on the baby boomers themselves (and maybe that is exactly where it is to be placed), as well as delivers her fieriest slide work in ages, both here and on several other of the rocking tracks. (Actually, her best slide work on the album is on ʽSplit Decisionʼ, a humorous «boxing» song full of lyrical double entendres, written by guitarist Al Anderson who also figuratively duels with Bonnie on the solo parts — this is as close as a Bonnie Raitt song ever gets to «fun» and «exciting»).
The Dylan covers are done really well, and I mean musically, not merely in a «Bonnie sings them credibly» manner, which would be dull, because she sings almost everything credibly (dull). But on ʽMillion Milesʼ, there is a mean, swampy, overtone-loaded slide solo, and on ʽStanding In The Doorwayʼ, there are some really exquisite slide licks that remind me better than anything else how she can turn the instrument from slithering snake to high-hoppin' singin' bird in a single moment. And, no doubt, this all has to do with the fact that these are just the right songs selected by her at exactly the right time — in fact, I am sure that the album could have been even better had she simply decided to donate 70% of the space to appropriately selected Dylan covers. Hey, the man has written gazillions of songs on death and despair — each of them more gripping than anything Gerry Rafferty or Kelly Price could offer.
Slipstream is Raitt's first album of original material since 2005 — seven years between albums is the longest break she ever took, and while there is no evidence whatsoever that it might be her last record, it does look as if now, at her age, she were still interested in regularly expectorating new stuff like clockwork, which is good, because it gives more opportunities for a meaningful statement on something fundamental every now and then. Perhaps my scent has been misled by the seductive Dylan covers, or by too much theorizing, but what the heck, just one more thumbs up will not hurt anybody. We will even overlook the fact that the quasi-obligatory boring piano ballad at the end has the nerve to be titled the same way as Paul McCartney's favorite song in the world, despite not being worthy to kiss its footprints.
Two things annoy me the most about Ms. Raitt — her way-too-tight integration in the formulaic roots-rock industry, and her courteous self-restraint and «politeness». Slipstream may still be well integrated and much too gallant for its own good, but at least this time around, it doesn't exactly make a cult of these values, and we'll take it as a positive sign. And if it does happen to be the last Bonnie Raitt album, we'll take it as an even more positive sign — as decent as it is on the whole, I seriously doubt that she will be ever able to top it.