on 19 August 2003
Hearing Bonnie Raitt's music, you'd swear her roots were somewhere in the Mississippi Delta - not, of all places, Southern California. And indeed, the red-haired, freckled daughter of Broadway star John Raitt ("Oklahoma!") fit in badly with the crowd of teenagers who listened to the Beach Boys and other representatives of the so-called "California music," went to the beach and learned how to surf; whereas Bonnie "didn't get tanned and ... lived in the canyon," as she recalls in her biography written by Mark Bego, "Just in the Nick of Time." But by that time, she had already found solace in music: "That was my saving grace. I just sat in my room and played my guitar," she remembers. One day she heard a Newport Folk Festival recording entitled "Blues at Newport '63," featuring John Lee Hooker, John Hammond, Brownie McGee, Mississippi John Hurt and other members of the blues's all-time elite. And Bonnie was hooked: "I tell you, once you get exposed to the blues, you can't get enough."
Thus, it was only natural that she would soon be found more frequently in the Cambridge, MA, blues and jazz clubs than in the hallowed halls of Radcliffe College, where she had enrolled to master in African studies. Before long she had an agent, and began to open for her idols Junior Wells, Arthur Crudup, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker and ultimately her mentor, Sippie Wallace, and met singer-songwriters and future soulmates Jackson Browne and James Taylor. In 1971 she was offered her first recording contract. And from her self-titled debut to 2002's "Silver Lining," her over three decades-long career is one of the most amazing examples of personal growth, combined with stellar musicianship and an active voice for society's victims and underprivileged and again and again, for women's rights; even if it would take the music industry until 1989's triple Grammies for the Capitol Records release "Nick of Time" to officially recognize Bonnie Raitt's achievements.
This collection, released shortly after her Grammy-winning album, chronicles all stages of her career until then, drawing on the nine albums she had released on Warner Records before changing labels. It features all-time classics such as "Give It Up or Let Me Go," "Love Me Like a Man," "Willya Wontcha," "Love Has No Pride" (one of her earliest signature songs), her intensely personal interpretation of Randy Newman's "Guilty" (which still cuts so close that she doesn't perform it live as regularly as other songs), the Tex-Mex ballad "Louise," her Al Green-inflected version of Jackson Browne's "Runaway," her hard-driving recording of Bryan Adams's "No Way to Treat a Lady" ("I sing a lot of songs for women who've 'had it,' and this is a powerful dose of that feeling," she comments on the album's liner notes), a rare 1976 live duet with Sippie Wallace on her mentor's "Women Be Wise," and an the Grammy-winning 1985 live duet with John Prine on "Angel From Montgomery," written by Prine but now a signature song for Bonnie Raitt as much as for him.
Much more than a "best of," this is a very personal collection of songs by the singer whose very first female role model was "Gunsmoke"'s red-headed, independent Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake); who learned to successfully compete with boys and men from early childhood on ("I just couldn't stand the way girls got the second best of everything," she recalls in "Nick of Time"), and who now donates the revenue from sales of her signature model Fender Strat to her own project for inner city girls. It amply showcases her feeling for the blues and her extraordinary talent as a guitar player: she is one of the few women who have mastered the bottleneck guitar, a feat she achieved even before her first recording contract, and her slide guitar skills are matched (if that) by only the best in the business.
Bonnie Raitt is rightfully considered part of the all-time elite of blues musicians, and recognized as a peer by the artists she once admired from afar. This album contains excellent examples of her cooperation with many of those artists, who appear on her records again and again - the list almost reads like a blues and rock music "who is who." There are, for example, Junior Wells (harp on "Finest Lovin' Man"), Freebo ([fretless] bass on almost every track and tuba on "Give It Up or Let Me Go"), A.C. Reed (sax on "Finest Lovin' Man"), John Payne (sax on "Give It Up or Let Me Go"), T.J. Tindall (e-guitar on "Under the Falling Sky"), Paul Butterfield (harp on "Under the Falling Sky"), Lowell George (slide guitar on "I Feel the Same" and "Guilty"), Bill Payne (keyboards on "I Feel the Same," "Guilty," "(Goin') Wild for You Baby" and "No Way to Treat a Lady"), Steve Gadd (drums on "What Is Success"), Will McFarlane (e-guitar on "My First Night Alone Without You," "Sugar Mama" and "Runaway"), John Hall (e-guitar on "My First Night Without You" and "Sugar Mama") Jai Winding (keyboards on "My First Night Alone Without You" and "Sugar Mama"), Joe and Jeff Porcaro (percussion on "Sugar Mama"), Norton Buffalo (harp on "Runaway"), Rosemary Butler (backing vocals on "Runaway" and "No Way to Treat a Lady") Waddy Wachtel (e-guitar on "(Goin') Wild for You Baby"), Bob Glaub (bass on "(Goin') Wild for You Baby"), Ricky Fataar (drums/percussion on "Willya Wontcha"), Michael Landau (guitar solo on "No Way to Treat a Lady"), Nathan East (bass on "No Way to Treat a Lady") and countless others.
Intimidated by her mother's skill as a pianist, Bonnie Raitt exchanged keys for steel strings when she was barely eight years old. She later did return to the piano, though, and even if she may not be Martha Argerich (or, for that matter, Marjorie Haydock Raitt), her true gift shines through even there. But even if she had never learned to play anything but guitar ... listening to this album, I doubt we would seriously be missing anything.