Over the course of the 40-plus years of her career, Bonnie Raitt has never resorted to gimmickry. What she does is deliver spirited music infused with integrity and steeped in the blues, roots music and rock tradition. In addition to her brassy and bright voice, she’s a remarkable slide guitarist (sparked from her ’60s hangs with blues icons) and a solid interpreter of songs by the top songwriting talents of the day. So after a seven-year hiatus from recording, it’s a welcome return for Raitt, who on Slipstream, sounds deeply refreshed, newly inspired and confidently relaxed. She also sounds reflective — based in no small part from a period of grieving after the deaths of both her parents, her brother and a best friend. All of this results in Raitt’s strongest outing since her 1989 commercial breakthrough, the multi-platinum, Grammy Album of the Year winner Nick of Time.
Slipstream‘s jump-start was instigated by sessions with Joe Henry, who produced four tunes on the album, including a pair of ’90s-era Bob Dylan compositions: the gently loping “Million Mile,” featuring Raitt’s silvery slide and an equally pleasing break by guest guitarist Bill Frisell, and a slow muse through “Standing in the Doorway.” Henry contributed two compositions, including the heartfelt, ruminative, show-stopping beauty, “God Only Knows.” Those dates with Henry’s band stirred Raitt to reunite with her band to reignite the fire of years past. The highlights are many. The leadoff tune, “Used to Rule the World,” is a funky, R&B-fueled rocker that has poignancy in its lyrics — about how the rapid changes in the personal, social and economical realms have rendered people rudderless. Somewhat of a narrative, the country-tinged “Marriage Made in Hollywood” examines a well-known star’s free fall (literally) into the disgrace of a “media grave.” The first single from the album is a fine reggae-inflected rendition of ex-Stealers Wheel singer Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 hit “Right Down the Line.” Three of the songs were written or co-written by ex-NRBQer Al Anderson, who has reigned supreme in Nashville as a songwriter since leaving the band nearly two decades ago. (Raitt covered ‘Q material before, most noteworthily Terry Adams’s “Me and the Boys” and “Green Lights,” both from her 1982 Green Light album.) The Anderson tunes include the forlorn “guilty heart/troubled mind” slow song “Not Cause I Wanted To” (with a Big Al guitar solo) and two rockers, the chugging and cooking “Ain’t Gonna Let You Go” and the rollicking “Spilt Decision.” Special note goes to how Raitt stretches many of the tunes with slippery and stinging slide breaks, a marked difference from the popular music of the day and a testament to her guitar brilliance.