Bonnie Raitt  Just Like That

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and eleven-time Grammy winner, plus this year’s recipient of the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award — presents her first new album in more than six years. The title comes from Raitt’s awareness that perceptions can alter in a flash, as reflected in recent world events.

Through lavish vocals — sometimes like velvet, at times with a hint of grit — and her superlative guitar work, she explores her deep-set emotions and influences while looking for redemption in these times of division and cruelty.  Raitt says,  “I feel like my responsibility is to get out there and say something fresh and new — for me and for the fans. It’s really daunting not to repeat yourself, but I have to have something to say, or I wouldn’t put out a record.”

Raitt kicks off the album with “Made Up Mind,” written by Jonathan Singleton and the Brothers Landreth, whom she befriended at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 2014. Already it feels like a Raitt classic, with everything a song requires to make it truly memorable: her exquisite voice and slide guitar, her trademark seductive groove, and compelling lyrics. Next she unleashes her vocal prowess in “Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart,” punctuated with silky slide riding above a sensual rhythm. It’s a number by NRBQ’s Al Anderson that Raitt waited almost thirty years to record. 

Raitt rocks out with some primal guitar in “Livin’ for the Ones,” a song she co-wrote with her longtime guitarist George Marinelli. Meant as a tribute to friends who’ve passed on, it’s a reminder to live to the full what life we have. The title track, “Just Like That,” is a heartbreaker that Raitt wrote after watching a news clip of two families brought together by an organ transplant. Her gorgeous, emotive voice, set above elegant acoustic fingerpicking, ratchets up the poignancy of a tragedy with grace at its end. She concludes with a sustained guitar note, bringing to mind the life that lives on. Using dynamics to full effect, “When We Say Goodnight” ranges from delicate to boisterous, with Raitt’s ravishing slide accented by Ricky Fataar’s captivating drumming. 

Another Raitt-penned original — a funk-jazz amalgam inspired by 1970s funk and by Mose Allison, Les McCann, and Eddie Harris — is “Waitin’ for You to Blow,” about the relentless temptations for an addict in recovery. Raitt sets aside her guitar and sings as a devilish provocateur, backed by Fataar’s vivacious rhythms, rousing organ by Glenn Patscha, Hutch Hutchinson‘s bouncing bass, and spirited guitar by Kenny Greenberg. Then Raitt slows the pace with a heartfelt, gospel-tinged jewel, “Blame It on Me,” drawing out the emotion through spectacular vocals and slide atop a foundation of robust organ. Following that with exhilarating slide and her indomitable voice, Raitt puts her own spin on “Love So Strong,” a reggae tune by her pal Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, of Toots and the Maytals, as a way to honour his passing in 2020. With swooping vocals and intricate rhythms, she taps into a jazzy Latin feel for “Here Comes Love,” a song she originally planned for her Dig in Deep CD. The groove is intoxicating, her guitar dazzles. 

Raitt wrote the final track, “Down the Hall,” after reading an article about conditions in a prison hospice. In fact, she is donating a portion of the proceeds from this song to provide humane facilities for those dying while incarcerated. The sound here is stripped bare with only Raitt on acoustic and Patscha on a Hammond B3. Through her plaintiff voice and ethereal fingerpicking, it speaks of the anguish and desolation of languishing alone during one’s final days in prison. 

Just Like That is testament to Bonnie Raitt’s mastery, steering the listener through a sweep of emotions, speaking to us with new stylings and topics layered on the bedrock of her formidable talent. It’s an album of consummate excellence, not to be missed. (Sandra B. Tooze)