Album Review: Bonnie Raitt ‘Slipstream’
One of the most defining things Bonnie Raitt ever said, for me, was on The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder back in 1999, when she said that what made her get into making music was noticing the difference between Little Richard and Pat Boone’s versions of ‘Tutti Frutti’. She said “It’s just got that thang,” referring of course to the former. Bonnie Raitt’s got that thang in spades.
It’s been seven years since her last release, and in that time she’s been through more than enough to pen a few songs about. She’s lost both of her parents, her brother, and one of her best friends. Slipstream has its moments of tender reflection, and even regret, but she’s not dwelling on it. For the most part it’s an album of bluesy and upbeat jam sessions.
The opener, ‘Used to Rule the World’, is a tried and true funk tune which represents one side of Slipstream’s tumbling coin. It’s about a fraternity of has-beens, and the feeling of obsoletism which comes with aging, in as positive a light as that might be cast. As an introduction it seems a sort of strange statement, but it’s more a celebration of the good old days than anything mournful.
‘Right Down the Line’ adds a reggae groove, which works well among the jams which make up a dominant half of the record. These tracks may be a little too predictable, but then, people aren’t buying Bonnie Raitt albums for forward-looking musical experimentation. She sings and plays with soul, she means it, and she loves it.
Most of these songs follow predefined musical templates, almost as familiar as the direct covers, of which there are several. The blues songs sound like every blues song ever written, and the same is true for her funk, reggae, and bluegrass. It’s a straight-up jam session. These tracks have a real soul and a blues backbone, and an attitude which comes easily for Bonnie Raitt.
The softer moments are probably the most successful. ‘You Can’t Fail Me Now’ is sung wonderfully, exploring love and loss, and deep loyalty. It’s easy for most listeners to tell the difference between true emotion and emotional songs that are designed to pander to them. This is the first time on the record that Slipstream truly achieves the former, though not the last. ‘Take My Love With You’ fits that description, and it’s a contest between the two for the best track.
There is not a lot of obvious political or social commentary here, which has always been very important to Bonnie. There are very personal songs, and then there are the celebratory, fun tunes to offset them, and not much else. It seems likely that she wanted that to be very evident.
Slipstream is a focused record, in spite of its having two very different stories to tell. They really do compliment each other as opposites, not allowing the album to be either too depressing or too indulgent. It has its elevator music moments, but that seems appropriate, too. She wanted to give you a collection of simple, effective songs, and that’s exactly what you’re getting here. Slipstream is fun, it’s pretty, and it is quintessentially Bonnie Raitt.