Music Review: Bonnie Raitt's Soulful Masterpiece
Bonnie Raitt's Soulful Masterpiece
A Review of Bonnie Raitt’s “Souls Alike” (Capitol Records: 2005)
by Harvey Wasserman
October 9, 2005
The incomparable Bonnie Raitt has produced an another incomparable masterpiece. “Souls Alike” confirms that she can create cutting edge new art even after decades at the top, while still being able to connect deep into the mainstream.
Long enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Bonnie’s shelf full of Grammys has not compromised her commitment to her craft, her adventurism or the creative demands of her raw talent.
There are ballads on this new album that remind us how Bonnie manages to speak to the pop mainstream with an integral clarity of soul and vision. There are others that take us deep into a world of hard blues and experimental jazz. How she pulls it all off is why she’s, well, Bonnie Raitt.
Three ballads are for the ages.
The album opens with “I Will Not Be Broken,” which has already attracted the likes of Dr. Phil for its inspirational message of courage in the face of hardship. Bonnie recently lost both her parents within four months of each other. Her father, the legendary John Raitt, was himself a pathbreaker both as a singer and as a peace activist. A committed Quaker, Raitt managed to balance a stellar career as the Broadway star of Carousel and Oklahoma with an outspoken commitment to non-violence. He very publicly supported civil disobedience against nuclear testing, and never backed off his Quaker beliefs, despite their show biz risks.
Bonnie’s mother Marjorie, was a concert pianist who left her career to help sustain her husband’s while raising three children. After extended illnesses, both passed away within 120 days of each other while Bonnie helped sustain another family member amidst a life-and-death struggle with cancer.
All that is reflected in the anthemic “I Will Not Be Broken,” which she sings with an inner strength that soars beyond the pitfalls of cliché. For those with challenges to face, it is a gutsy, truly moving piece that will be around for a good while.
“Two Lights in the Nighttime” is little come-hither that bounces nicely over the radio with Bonnie’s trademark sexy, playful verve. Her no-frills blues roots give us “Love on One Condition,” a blunt, funny “shape up or ship out!” to a straying mate. On the other hand, “I Don’t Want Anything to Change” is heart-rending, a beautifully melodic evocation of a moment we all dread, on the cusp of losing a lover.
The album opens with “Broken” and then moves to the dark, edgy “God Was in the Water,” an enigmatic cruise with a Gospel tone. It sails through “Condition” and the nicely rendered “So Close.”
But then it dives into “Trinkets,” Emory Joseph’s off-beat ode to a New Orleans childhood that jars us from what we’re doing and forces us to read the lyrics. Coming just as this most precious City of our Soul has been raped and drowned, “Trinkets” is eerie and powerful…and nothing you’ll hear from any other artist with a pop constituency.
The excursion continues with Maia Sharp and David Batteau’s “Crooked Crown,” an enigmatic evocation of spiritual tribulation. Bonnie throws in some politics with “Unnecessarily Mercenary,” nicely written by her pianist John Cleary, who also penned “Love on One Condition.”
For good measure Bonnie adds “Deep Water” and “The Bed I Made,” love songs with lyric twists that demand we pay attention. “Do you see the woman inside the girl?” she asks. “I feel your skin where my nails left their mark.”
Where Bonnie leaves her awesome signature is all over our minds and hearts. This seemlessly woven tapestry of soul and virtuosity could only have been produced and performed by her. She soothes, relaxes and entertains while seducing us into listening to things that come from places we’ve not heard before. Then she sends a few righteous messages and leaves us in “The Bed I Made.”
Bonnie Raitt has been at the top of rock for decades. But she has the range and power to hold her own with “Souls Alike” of the caliber of Tony Bennett and Ray Charles, and to produce art of her own with daring and depth.
This album tells us she has come through deep personal tests not merely unbroken, but more powerful and perceptive than ever.
May our bloodied, beloved country now do the same.
HARVEY WASSERMAN’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES is available at www.harveywasserman.com. He is co-author, with Bob Fitrakis, of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA’S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008 ( www.Freepress.org). He has worked with Bonnie for many years.