Image © Capitol Records 2005
(09 October 2005) One of the most accomplished singer/songwriters and master slide guitarists of our time, Bonnie Raitt continues expanding upon a legacy of timeless recordings with her 18th studio album and latest release, Souls Alike (Capitol Records (USA) CD 73628, 2005). The album title represents the personal connection Raitt felt for the inspiring song material coming from a new group of lesser known songwriters and the creative connection shared with her touring band, performing and recording together for nearly a decade.
Raitt describes it best, "For me, one of the most exciting aspects of what I do is hearing some hidden part of myself reflected back in the songs of someone else. It's why that connection to artists we love is so deep. And then the alchemy of the band and I finding a way to make these songs our own ... that's what keeps me coming back. Like prisms reflecting back on each other, we're souls alike."
Souls Alike is a bold, ambitious adventure, an exhilarating roller coaster ride through the many twists and turns found along the album's eleven tracks. Raitt's strong desire to stretch herself artistically has taken a new direction, as quoted in the album press release, "You gotta do stuff that stretches you, I would hang up my spurs if I didn't have something new to play." This new recording covers innovative, intelligent material, the sound is fresh and exciting with Raitt's signature style of heartfelt emotion and gutsy slide solos blended into the mix. Several tracks delve into thorny, sophisticated themes with complex, progressive arrangements, while others feature the type of material one would identify as "classic" Bonnie Raitt.
Souls Alike opens with "I Will Not Be Broken", a Memphis style R&B tune with deep, rich tones and warm glowing harmonies. Raitt's vocal performance is impeccable, you feel the depth of emotion pouring into every verse. The lyrics are powerful, offering the kind of inspiration most will find personally relevant. This past year brought painful times of family crises for Raitt, with the passing of both parents while at her brother's side supporting his fight with brain cancer. (Thankfully her brother won his lengthy battle and is presently in remission.) Raitt felt a profound affinity to this song, reflecting her ability to endure difficult events so personally challenging and her unwavering mindset as a woman of strength and determination. In her own words, "The song was like an anthem for me and for everybody that wants to feel like they can stand up to getting pushed around." This opening track is destined to feel right at home all across the airwaves.
"God Was In The Water", changes gears, its slower rhythmic structure gradually moves like a hypnotic cadence. This edgy composition conjures up images of a mysterious dream, with its haunting, almost eerie sound. The symbolism within the lyrics are thought provoking, as if testing one's own spiritual journey, it leaves much for personal interpretation. Raitt's stinging slide accents, greatly illuminate the overall theme.
"Love On One Condition", the first of two from Jon Cleary, is a celebration of Raitt and Cleary's reunion on this Louisiana R&B style, swamp pop tune. Reminiscent of their work on Silver Lining, this infectious,
"feel good" tune is loaded with that Little Feat flavored groove. James "Hutch" Hutchinson makes a solid contribution with a series of incredible bass runs heard pulsing from start to finish. Raitt's vocals are vibrant, sounding soulful and gritty, sexy and flirtatious. The track ends in grand finale style with Raitt and Cleary dueling it out, bouncing solos off each other.
Cleary's second track, "Unnecessarily Mercenary", keeps the fires burning on this southern fried, R&B tune. Raitt and her band give a high energy, combustible performance, highlighting Cleary's "red hot" keyboard
solos. The dynamic duo of Raitt and Cleary have once again joined forces by combining their musical powers of persuasion, motivating you right up outta your seat on both these tracks.
The first of two ballads, "So Close" is a tender, intimate tune, touching upon those first initial feelings when finding real love. A beautiful arrangement by George Marinelli, who gives a splendid acoustic performance. This expressive track reveals Raitt's softer side as she vocally reflects feelings of joy and happiness. Her skillful slide technique shines on an amazing solo, imitating the harmony of a background vocalist. The album's second ballad, "I Don't Want Anything To Change", is another heartfelt arrangement about the loneliness of a loveless relationship and the reluctance of letting go. There's such a fragile sadness and vulnerability found in Raitt's voice, sounding very poignant and sincere on this contemporary folk style acoustic tune.
"Two Lights In The Nighttime" is an excellent Dixieland style shuffle, with a potent blend of swamp funk, bayou boogie and New Orleans R&B that'll keep you asking for more. Another infectious track with plenty of high spirited, rambunctious performances, frequently heard playing up and down Bourbon Street. Two of the albums most unconventional, avant-garde tunes are, "Crooked Crown" and "Deep Water," both steeped with modern lyrical complexities and futuristic styled rhythms. These unique, mosaic arrangements require an open mind and several plays before fully appreciating all the various nuances.
The final track, "The Bed I Made" brings a Billie Holiday element to this nightclub singer, piano bar styled tune with its contemporary, light jazz format. Raitt's vocals are smooth and silky, articulating the bittersweet mood being presented. The accompaniment is crisp and refreshing, unlike the previous tracks, this one will catch you off guard. You'll discover its introspective appeal and feel the need to listen again and again, an excellent closing number.
Souls Alike continues forward from where Silver Lining left off, a true showcase of Raitt's artistic growth and endless enthusiasm. You won't find any of the standard fare listed on this very first album to fully credit, "Produced by Bonnie Raitt". Instead, this "Hall of Famer" is serving her fans a stellar selection of delicious entrees, well worth savoring. Souls Alike is a smart, imaginative album, the new material fits comfortably into Raitt's repertoire without ignoring any of her musical roots. This latest
release is an outstanding addition to a remarkable body of
work, one of the most extraordinary recordings of Raitt's career. Give this one your undivided attention.--Pamela L. Dow in western Massachusetts