And Just Like That Bonnie Raitt Releases Her Best Album to Date

Since finding out the other day that Bonnie Raitt was going to come out with a new album I had been full of anticipation. The wait was finally over last Friday (April 22). Not only is Just Like That… Raitt’s 21st album and her first new release in more than six years, but I increasingly feel it’s her best work to date in a 51-year recording career!

As people who follow this blog or are aware of my music taste otherwise know, Raitt is one of my long-time favorite artists. Since my former German bandmate and music buddy introduced me to Nick of Time in 1989, I’ve listened to this amazing lady. From the get-go, I loved her smooth slide guitar playing (btw, I read she’s completely self-taught!), as well her voice and songs. My appreciation increased even further after seeing Raitt at NJPAC in Newark, N.J. in August 2016. She’s just a phenomenal music artist!

According to Raitt’s website, work on Just Like That… began last summer when it appeared things with this tiresome pandemic were headed in a better direction, and she brought her band to Northern California: Duke Levine (guitar, vocals), George Marinelli (guitar, vocals), Glenn Patscha (keyboard, vocals), James “Hutch” Hutchinson (bass) and Ricky Fataar (drums). “I’ve always wanted to make a record here [closer to her home – CMM], and once vaccinations made traveling safe again, we were thrilled to get everyone back together,” she explained. “I think the absolute joy and relief of reuniting to play live music is really palpable on this record.”

“On this record, I wanted to stretch,” Raitt further pointed out. “I always want to find songs that excite me, and what’s different this time is that I’ve tried some styles and topics I haven’t touched on before.” Raitt has always had a gift to pick and interpret great songs written by other artists, such as John Hiatt, Gary Nicholson, Wayne Kirkpatrick and John Prine. Apart from continuing that tradition, Just Like That… also features four tunes written by Raitt – more than the usual two to three original songs on previous albums. Time for some music!

Here’s the great opener Made Up Mind, a song by Canadian roots-rock band The Bros. Landreth from their 2013 album Let It Lie. The song was co-written by David Landreth, Jonathan Singleton and Joseph Landreth. Raitt’s rendition was first released on February 22 as the first of three upfront singles. “Made Up Mind I fell in love with in 2014 from The Bros. Landreth who opened a show for us in Canada,” Raitt told Zane Lowe during a 1-hour interview for Apple Music. Can’t blame her. Here’s the excellent original in case you’re curious!

Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart is a tune by American guitarist and songwriter Al Anderson, who according to his AllMusic bio “is best known for his 22-year stint with roots-rock renegades NRBQ” [between 1971 and 1993 – CMM]. “Al Anderson I’ve been friends with, with one of my favorite bands, NRBQ,” Raitt told Zane. “He was the lead singer and guitar player for them, one of the lead singers. And I’ve had that song for 30 years.” Like Made Up Mind, the track first appeared as an upfront single, on March 25. Love this tune!

Since I included Livin’ For the Ones, another highlight of the album, in my last Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here and go right to the title song. Written by Raitt, it’s a deeply touching story song inspired by a news story she had watched on TV. “They followed this woman who was going to the house of the man who received her son’s heart she donated when he passed away, for the first time,” Raitt told Zane. “…And he invited her to sit on the couch…And then he said, ‘would you like to put your head on my chest and listen to your son’s heart?’ [Raitt’s voice breaks] It laid me out. It just laid me out.” Just picturing the scene Raitt described makes you cry!

Things turn funky on Waitin’ For You to Blow, another original. According to a statement on Raitt’s website, the song is inspired by Mose Allison, Les McCann and Eddie Harris, and ‘70s funk. “There’s something thrilling about creating something brand new out of feelings and styles that have always run so deep in me,” Raitt stated. Check out the cool groove of that tune!

The last track I’d like to call out is Love So Strong, a song by Jamaican ska and rock steady group Toots and the Maytals from their 2007 album Light Your Light. The above statement notes Raitt had planned to do that tune as her third duet with the band’s frontman Toots Hibbert, but her dear friend passed away in 2020. Raitt ended up recording the groovy song as a tribute to Hibbert, who is regarded as a reggae pioneer like Bob Marley.

Bonnie Raitt produced Just Like That…. Like her two previous albums, Dig In Deep (2016) and Slipstream (2012), Just Like That… appears on Redwing Records. The album was recorded and mixed by Ryan Freeland who had served as engineer and mixer on the Grammy-winning Slipstream. Freeland has also worked with Ray LaMontagne, Aimee Mann, Loudon Wainwright III and Alana Davis, among others.

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

The final word shall belong to Raitt who as stated on her website has never felt more grateful that she can continue making music, contributing to causes, keeping her crew working, and connecting with her audience. “I’m really aware of how lucky I am and I feel like my responsibility is to get out there and say something fresh and new—for me and for the fans,” she says. “It’s really daunting not to repeat yourself, but I have to have something to say, or I wouldn’t put out a record.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Bonnie Raitt website; Apple Music; AllMusic; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

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My Playlist: Bob Marley

In my case, reggae is a bit like jazz: I don’t dislike it but listen to it infrequently. When I do, the artist I keep coming back to is Bob Marley. My best friend who I’m fortunate to still call that way to this day got me into Marley with Babylon by Bus. It must have been around 1980 when he bought that excellent live album by Bob Marley and the Wailers. I recorded the double-LP right away on music cassette and it quickly became a favorite. Since I didn’t throw out my MCs and don’t think I ever will, the tape must still be floating around somewhere.

Bob Marley was born as Robert Nesta Marley on the farm of his maternal grandfather in Nine Mile, Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica on February 6, 1945. While his father Norval Sinclair Marley provided financial support, Bob rarely saw him. Two years after Norval’s death, his mother Cedella Malcolm moved with then 12-year-old Bob to Trenchtown, a low-income community in the Jamaican capital of Kingston. There, Cedella had a daughter with Thadeus Livingston, the father of Neville Livingston who later became known as Bunny Wailer.

Bob Marley

In the late 1950s, a new music genre called ska became popular in Jamaica, combining elements of Caribbean music with American jazz and R&B. By the mid-’60s, ska evolved into rock steady, the predecessor to reggae. The main characteristic feature all three music styles share is the rhythmic accentuation on the offbeat. Based on my understanding, one difference is tempo. While ska generally is fairly upbeat, rock steady has a slower beat, which tends to be further slowed down in reggae. It is that laid back groove of the latter I particularly dig.

In 1963, Bob Marley and Neville Livingston (Bunny Wailer) started taking vocal lessons with local singer Joe Higgs who introduced them to Winston Hubert McIntosh, who became known as Peter Tosh. Higgs also taught Marley how to play the guitar. The trio formed the core of what would become The Wailers. They were soon joined by Junior Braithwaite (vocals), as well as backing vocalists Cherry Smith and Beverley Kelso.

Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Beverley Kelso and Bunny Livingston 1964
From left: Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Beverley Kelso and Bunny Wailer ca. 1964

In December 1963, The Wailers released their first single Simmer Down, backed by ska group The Skatalites. By February 1964, the tune had hit no. 1 in Jamaica. The band’s debut album The Wailing Wailers appeared in late 1965. Only released on the island, it essentially was a compilation of tunes previously recorded in 1964 and 1965. The Wailers’ first album released outside of Jamaica was their sophomore Soul Rebels from December 1970.

Following the depature of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer in 1974, Marley continued as Bob Marley and the Wailers, with Marley on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. The Wailers at that time featured Aston Barrett (bass), Carlton Barrett (drums, percussion), Bernard Harvey (piano, organ), Jean Roussel (keyboards) and Al Anderson (lead guitar), along with the so-called I-Threes, a backing vocal trio consisting of Marley’s wife Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths – quite an army!

Bob Marley and the Wailers live

In July 1977, a malignant melanoma lesion was found under one of Marley’s toe nails. Due to his Rastafari beliefs and out of concern it would disrupt touring, Marley did not follow the medical advice to have his toe amputated and instead chose less invasive treatment. Unfortunately, it is safe to assume his decision most likely cost him his life less than four years later. On May 11, 1981, Marley passed away at a U.S. hospital in Miami at the age of 36. The cancer had spread throughout his body.

Altogether, Marley released 11 studio and two live albums during his lifetime. His posthumous greatest hits compilation Legend from May 1984 became the best-selling reggae album of all time, with sales in the U.S. and worldwide exceeding 15 million and 28 million copies, respectively. At an estimated total of more than 75 million sold records, Marley also ranks as one of the best-selling artists. In 1994, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at no. 11 on their 2007 list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Let’s get to some music!

I’m skipping Marley’s early stage, since I’m not well familiar with it. Instead, I’d like to kick things off with Stir It Up, a Bob Marley tune that was included on The Wailers’ fifth studio album Catch a Fire from April 1973. It proved to be a good title – together with a supporting tour of England and the U.S., the record helped put the band on the map internationally.

In October 1973, The Wailers released their sixth studio album Burnin’, the last with Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. The lead single was the Marley-penned I Shot the Sheriff, which reached no. 67 in the UK and didn’t chart in the U.S. at all – that is until 1974, when Eric Clapton scored a major international hit with a great cover version. It topped the charts in the U.S., Canada and New Zealand, and was a top 10 in the UK and various other European countries. Similar to Cream and The Rolling Stones, who elevated African-American blues artists in the ’60s, Clapton’s cover significantly raised Marley’s international profile.

One of Marley’s best-known tunes is No Woman, No Cry, which he initially recorded for Natty Dread, the first album released as Bob Marley and the Wailers in October 1974. According to Rolling Stone, which included the song at no. 37 in their 2011 list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Marley gave the official songwriting credit to his friend Vincent Ford to help keep Ford’s Kingston soup kitchen running. The most popular version of that song appeared on Live!, the first live album by Marley and the band from December 1975, which captured a gig in London in July that year. That version also came out seperately as a single and peaked at no. 7 on the UK Singles Chart, marking the band’s first top 10 hit in Britain.

Rastaman Vibration was Bob Marley’s first album to crack the top 10 on the Billboard 200, climbing to no. 8. Released in April 1976, it reached no. 15 in the UK and no. 26 in New Zealand. Here’s the opener Positive Vibration, another tune credited to Marley’s friend Vincent Ford.

After an assassination attempt in Jamaica in December 1976, which wounded but did not kill him, Marley relocated to London where he recorded his ninth album. Exodus, released in June 1977, elevated Marley to international stardoom and received Gold certifications in the UK, U.S. and Canada. Here’s the infectious Jamming, which also became one of the album’s six singles.

Next up: A fantastic live version of Is This Love from the aforementioned Babylon by Bus, released in November 1978. Marley and his band first recorded the tune for their 10th studio album Kaya from March 1978. Similar to No Woman, No Cry, I think the live version of Is This Love is superior to the initial studio recording. It has always been one of my favorite tracks on Babylon by Bus.

At the end of 1978, Bob Marley made his first visit to Africa, including Kenya and Ethiopia, the spiritual home of Rastafari. He subsequently became a supporter of Pan-African solidarity. This is reflected on his 11th studio album Survival that came out in October 1979. One of the songs, Zimbabwe, celebrates the liberation of the country formerly called Rhodesia.

One of the grooviest Bob Marley tunes is Could You Be Loved, which blends reggae with dance music. It became one of his highest-charting singles in the UK where it peaked at no. 5. While in the U.S. it missed the Hot 100, it reached no. 6 on the Dance Clubs Songs, another Billboard chart. Could You Be Loved was included on Uprising from June 1980, the final album released during Marley’s lifetime.

I’d like to wrap up with two more tunes that came out after Marley’s death. The first is Buffalo Soldier from Confrontation, a studio album that appeared in May 1983. The record was a compilation of unreleased material and singles recorded during Marley’s lifetime. Buffalo Soldier is co-credited to Marley and Jamaican DJ, musician and reggae producer Noel George Williams, who was known as King Sporty. The tune became Marley’s highest-charting UK single peaking at no. 4. It was even more successful in New Zealand where it reached no. 3.

This bring me to the final tune and one of by favorites by Bob Marley: Iron Lion Zion. Originally, Marley wrote and first recorded that song in 1973 or 1974. But it was not released until October 1992, when it first appeared on a four-disc box set called Songs of Freedom. The version I’m featuring here is a remix that was included on Natural Mystic: The Legend Lives On, an addendum to the 1984 compilation Legend.

Sources: Wikipedia; Bob Marley website; Rolling Stone; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Bonnie Raitt/Slipstream

I think Slipstream is one of the gems in Bonnie Raitt’s close to 40-year recording career. I hadn’t heard the album in a while until this morning. Afterwards, I spontaneously decided to cover it.

Raitt is one of my favorite music artists, and I’ve written about her before. If you’re curious about her background, you can read more here. In this post, I’d like to focus on the music from Slipstream, Raitt’s 16th studio album released in April 2012. It came seven years after the predecessor Souls Alike, the last album for her longtime record company Capitol Records. The album is the first issued on her independent label Redwing Records, which she launched in 2011.

Slipstream kicks off strongly with the groovy Used To Rule A World. The tune also became one of two tracks that appeared separately as a single. It was written by singer-songwriter and session multi-instrumentalist Randall Bramblett. In addition to Raitt, he has played with the likes of Gregg Allman, Robbie Robertson and Steve Winwood. Apart from Raitt’s funky guitar, I particularly dig the Hammond B3 part performed by Mike Finnegan. He’s another session musician with an impressive resume, including Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Buddy Guy, Etta James and Crosby, Stills and Nash, to name some.

Right Down The Line, the second single off the album, is a nice cover of a tune by Gerry Rafferty. The Scottish singer-songwriter included it on his sophomore album City To City from January 1978. That record is best known for the mega hit Baker Street, which makes me want to listen to the song and other music from Rafferty. I haven’t done that in a long time either – could become a separate blog topic in the future!

Down To You is another tune for which Bramblett got a credit. The other co-writers are George Marinelli, who also plays guitar, as well as Raitt who wrote the lyrics – her only credit on the album. But if you interpret songs, sing and play slide guitar like Raitt, I think it becomes a minor detail whether or not you actually write the songs. Marinelli, a founding member of Bruce Hornsby and The Range, has been part of Raitt’s band since 1993.

Raitt slows things down on Not Cause I Wanted To, a ballad about the breakup of a relationship. I wonder whether the tune, which was co-written by Al Anderson and Bonnie Bishop, has some autobiographic connection. According to Wikipedia, Raitt’s marriage to actor Michael O’Keefe ended in divorce in late 1999, apparently because their careers caused them to spend much time apart.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Standing In The Doorway, another track on the quieter side. It was written by Bob Dylan, who included it on this 30th studio album Time Out Of Mind from September 1997. Interestingly, Slipstream also features another Dylan cover from the same record, Million Miles. When covering songs, Raitt oftentimes makes them her own, but in this case, she chose to stay closely to the original – in any case, a beautiful take!

Slipstream entered the Billboard 200 at no. 6, making it Raitt’s highest-charting album in the U.S. in 18 years since 1994’s chart-topper Longing In Their Hearts. She also won Best Americana Album for Slipstream at the 2013 Grammy Awards.

Sources: Wikipedia, Bonnie Raitt website, YouTube