“Slipstream” (Redwing) marks Bonnie Raitt’s first album since 2005 and her first independent release in a career that stretches back to the early ‘70s. The album is a composite of two recording sessions, one a self-produced effort with her road band and the other a riskier, more rewarding collaboration with producer Joe Henry and his hand-picked studio musicians.
On the Henry-produced material, Raitt plunges into the deep end of four richly atmospheric ballads – two Bob Dylan songs, two more by Henry. Jazz maestro Bill Frisell weaves guitar lines around Greg Leisz’s sighing pedal steel on Dylan’s “Standing in the Doorway,” and then Raitt wraps it all up with a few lingering slide-guitar notes. Henry’s “God Only Knows” is sparser still, just voice and piano, a prayer distilled to four beautifully written and sung verses.
The rest of the album is fleshed out with largely uptempo, self-produced blues-rock (and one reggae-flavored ringer, a cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line”) that showcases the supple strength of Raitt’s road band. Her still-fearsome slide-guitar playing redeems a light-hearted toss-off such as “Split Decision,” and channels the raw vitality of her old friend John Lee Hooker on “Ain’t Gonna Let You Go.” Raitt knows this territory well, and no doubt these brisker songs are designed as much with a forthcoming tour in mind as they are to balance the Henry-produced slow-burners.
It’s an understandable decision given Raitt’s history as a road warrior. But the Henry-produced songs are so accomplished, the sonic chemistry so enveloping and hypnotic, that one wishes Raitt had taken the entire album in this direction.
3 stars (out of 4)
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