Bonnie Raitt is certainly one of the most consistent artists of the past 35 years. While that might mean that her work is often predictable, it also means that it is usually very good. Since her debut, Raitt's approach hasn't really changed much at all; she still mixes ballads, rock, and folk-oriented music and infuses all of it with a strong sense of the blues. About the only thing that has changed over the years is the level of recognition that she receives. The combination of her voice and slide-guitar tone is now instantly recognizable by just about anyone, and here numerous Grammy awards have helped elevate her to a semi-legendary status.
"Bonnie Raitt and Friends" celebrates her career by presenting a live performance that captures the essence of her artistry, and pairs her with some special guests. Surprisingly, virtually none of the songs performed are taken from the first half of her career, which I see as a good thing. Although I love the material on her early albums "Taking My Time," "Home Plate" and others, those songs have grown a bit shopworn over the years. "Love Has No Pride" and "Angel from Montgomery" do not make the cut, while newer songs like "Crooked Crown" and "I Don't Want Anything to Change" are prominently featured. I believe the oldest song from her repertoire that appears here is "Love Letter," from 1989's "Nick of Time" album. The emphasis on newer material provides this collection with a sense of freshness that is exceptional, especially for an artist with a four-decade career.
While each song is performed beautifully, the pace of the show varies from lachrymose to lukewarm. Special guests enliven things a bit, with appearances by Keb Mo', Alison Krauss, Ben Harper, Jon Cleary (who is a bonafide bandmember) and Norah Jones. Ben Harper's performance is simply functional, and Norah Jones is predictably laid back, but special mention should be made of Keb Mo' and Alison Krauss. Mo' and Raitt share a natural affinity that is mutually complimentary, as if they had been playing together for years. Krauss, meanwhile, is a perfect partner for Raitt, with a voice that is equally resonant and a musicianship that represents `state of the art' Americana. Any fan of either of these beautiful and talented musicians owes it to themselves to hear their duet on the gorgeous sad ballad "You." The CD and DVD duplicate one another, but the DVD also includes interviews with each of the artists, which are worth seeing if only for the candor and mutual respect they convey. This generosity of spirit is a prime ingredient that defines the music of Bonnie Raitt, and it is abundantly clear throughout "Bonnie Raitt and Friends." B+ Tom Ryan