Bonnie Raitt excels as both a songwriter and as an interpreter of other’s material, and all of that is on display on her first album in 6 years, ‘Just Like That…’. It’s a strong collection that includes original composition as well as covers, and, stylistically, it builds on her strengths in a blues-based pop and rock sound. More than 50 years after her first album came out, Raitt continues to try new things, while never abandoning her core identity and the things that made her distinctive artist. While she’s been open to changes in production, to new ways of doings thing, the 10-time Grammy Award-winner and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer has done always done that in the context of remaining true to herself.
‘Just Like That…’ is not a concept album, but it is an album that holds together around some themes and ideas. It’s to Raitt’s credit that these are timely without being a comment on the last few years. The title track, written by the artist, unifies the album with the story of a heart transplant from the perspectives of both families involved. It’s a story about loss, but it’s also a story about renewal. The relevance of that story right now is clear, but it’s a story that will speak to people outside of this time, and is not attached to it.
The title cut and ‘Down The Hall’ are the strongest of Raitt’s original songs here. ‘Down The Hall’ was inspired by a New York Times story about a prison hospice program, and this is a song that hits. Raitt might be better as a songwriter when she is working with material she is not directly involved in; she has a powerful empathy and really excels at writing from this stance. This a song that’s going to hit you in your feelings. Prisoners may not be a population you’re inclined to feel a lot of empathy for, or even to think much about, but it’s important to remember that empathy isn’t something that only “good” people deserve empathy–and it would gross oversimplification to write-off people in prison as uniformly not being “good.”
I didn’t warm to the other originals quite as much. ‘Living For The Ones’, which is a tribute to the loved ones lost by Raitt and her longtime guitarist, George Marinelli, in recent years, is meant to rock hard, and to emphasize the need to celebrate and live joyously, but it didn’t strike quite the right emotional balance it needed to with the loss that’s been experienced. This song might’ve worked better if it had balanced anthemic rock with a heartbroken blues. ‘Waitin’ For You To Blow’ is lyrically stronger, but it stands out more its voyaging into funk/jazz hybrid territory inspired by Mose Allison, Les McCann, and Eddie Harris.
The covers are well chosen, and they suit Raitt’s style well. The album kicks off with ‘Made Up Mind’, by the Canadian roots-rock duo The Bros. Landreth. She’d be carrying the song around since she met them at the 2014 Winnipeg Folk Festival in their hometown, and was finally able to record it. She’d had ‘Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart’, by NRBQ’s Al Anderson for nearly 3 decades, so long he’d given up hope she’d eventually record it, but it turned out to be worth the wait. Originally intended to be a duet with the reggae giant, ‘Love So Strong’ became a tribute to the late Toots Hibbert, who passed away in 2020. Her cover of the California Honeydrops’ ‘Here Comes Love’ has some serious tropical funk.
‘Just Like That…’ plays to Raitt’s strengths, and the high points are quite good. While it’s not as consistently strong as her very best material, this is still a terrific record, and some of these songs will stay with you.
Track list: 1. Made Up Mind 2. Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart 3. Livin’ For The Ones 4. Just Like That 5. When We Say Goodnight 6. Waitin’ For You To Blow 7. Blame It On Me 8. Love So Strong 9. Here Comes Love 10. Down The Hall Record label: Redwing Records LLC Release date: 22nd April 2022 Buy ‘Just Like That…’ now