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Monday, April 30, 2012

Bonnie Raitt

Slipstream (Redwing Records)

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The two Dylan covers, both from Time Out of Mind, no less, reveal the state of Bonnie Raitt's old heart: full of appreciation, wonder and tough nostalgia for “the rest of us, who used to rule the world.” Sure, the smooth blues and confessional, countrified rockers here are gussied up and slicked down as if it were the late-'80s days of Nick of Time. But aside from the slide chops and angel-from-Montgomery voice, Raitt's most considerable skill may always have been recognizing and paying heed to the musicality around and before her (remember that take of John Hiatt's “Thing Called Love”?).

Here she offers three cuts by Al Anderson, former member of bar-band supreme NRBQ and contributor of the wicked, raunched-up riffage of “Split Decision.” Then there's her take on Gerry Rafferty's “Right Down the Line,” breathing new life into the old Top 40 hit. There are two from previous Raitt collaborator Randall Bramblett, including the easy ridin' opener “Used to Rule the World.” They go nicely with producer Joe Henry's writing contributions—the gentle pleading on “You Can't Fail Me Now” and the minor-key, death-gazing “God Only Knows.” Henry's original of the latter may be best used and most often heard on a magical “TCM Remembers” tribute—so, yes, Raitt's musical scope extends rather wide (she even recently called in a pledge to WMSE during her pal Paul Cebar's weekly show).

The best, though, are the Dylan songs. “Standing in the Doorway” is a gorgeous heartbreaker, at once tough and vulnerable, sharp, funny and languorous. One of the more unheralded gems of the modern Dylan rebirth, here it's delivered with just the right amount of woe, soul and restraint. On “Million Miles” Raitt trades licks with guest Bill Frisell. And it's her fretwork, in turns fluid and gristly, that most reminds us she's still queen in the realm of dad bands.

Bonnie Raitt performs Aug. 22 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.