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Two good cooks= a great stew.
on April 10, 2012
What's going on here? Veteran roots artists have been releasing some of the best music of their careers- B.B. King, Gregg Allman, Dr, John and now Bonnie Raitt have all recorded five star works within the last year or two. Aside from the obvious talents of these artists, there seems to be a common thread at work here: sympathetic producers.
Both B.B. and Gregg worked with veteran T-Bone Burnett to create their strongest studio efforts in years, while the good Doctor was produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach for one of the most unusual (and satisfying) recordings in his canon. On "Slipstream", Bonnie is produced by alt-country artist Joe Henry. He earned serious blues cred with Solomon Burke's "Don't Give Up On Me" and Betty Lavette's "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise", among many others.
Bonnie and Henry recorded ten songs in his home studio with an excellent group of acoustic musicians: guitarist Greg Leisz and pianist Patrick Warren are joined by the rhythm section of bassist David Piltch and Jay Bellrose, the drummer who played the skins on Gregg Allman's "Low Country Blues". Four of the songs made the cut on "Slipstream"- Bob Dylan's "Standing In the Doorway" and "Million Miles" are standouts, while Loudon Wainwright III's "You Can't Fail Me Know" and Henry's "God Only Knows" are ballads that will stay in your head long after your first listen.
Covering Dylan always takes courage, but Bonnie has the ability to take the Bard's songs and make them her own, similar to Mavis Staples or Maria Muldaur. When Dylan sings the second verse from "Doorway", "If I saw you, don't know if I'd kiss you or kill you", his dark humor delivery almost makes you laugh. When Bonnie sings the same line, she ever so slightly draws out "kill you", sounding ominous- very uncharacteristic of Bonnie, and very effective.
After being produced by so many greats over the years, including Mitchell Froom (Los Lobos, Emmylou Harris) and Don Was (nearly everyone), and handling her own "Souls Alike" in 2005, Bonnie learned enough tricks in the chair to self- produce the other eight tracks on the album. Her band has been with her for years: George Marinelli on guitar, "Hutch" Hutchinson on bass and Ricky Fataar on drums. In place of Jon Cleary, Mike Finnigan supplies the keyboard work to augment the band's sound.
A Reggae take on the recently departed Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line" looks like an odd choice on paper, but this track is a standout on an album with no weak ones. Randall Bramblett's "Used To Rule the World" is the type of uptempo funky number that showcases Bonnie's slide guitar, and the underrated fretwork of Marinelli. Bonnie is especially effective on the Dylan songs, with accompaniment from jazz guitarist Bill Frisell.
Al Anderson of NRBQ fame contributed three songs to this project, and his guitar duel with Bonnie on "Split Decision" adds to the album's overall jam vibe. Bonnie in particular wanted to go for the rocking sounds that she creates with Marinelli when they perform live.
Some have commented that the Henry produced songs are the superior ones on "Slipstream", but I respectfully disagree. This album is unique because while two producers contribute, the results are equally successful. Bonnie plans on releasing the remaining Henry produced songs from this session at a later date; hopefully she will add some self-produced tracks to that release as well. This is one case where two good cooks have created a great sonic stew.