The warmth and vigor of Bonnie Raitt's voice throughout her new album Slipstream, even when she's covering an oldie such as Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line," is vital and fresh — urgent, even. Raitt has always possessed a gift for taking a familiar phrase and rendering it in a manner that compels a listener to think anew about what the words really mean.
Raitt has always mixed folk with blues, rock and the sort of funk that she'd probably link to Lowell George and Little Feat, and that I'd say is as respectful of beat and groove as any of the R&B artists she admires. You can hear it in her slide-guitar playing throughout Slipstream, and particularly the way she sets up the rhythm with her band and then slides her voice in like a letter going into an envelope addressed to you.
I know that if you're going to praise a Bonnie Raitt album, you're supposed to work in some comparison to her greatest commercial success, 1989's Grammy-winning Nick of Time. But my praise is more precise: This is Raitt's best album since 1975's underrated Home Plate. I'm not just pulling that out for obscurity's sake, either: Slipstream captures the kind of barnstorming fervor that can turn in the space of a song into a slow boil, the roiling storm of emotions contained within her cover of Bob Dylan's "Million Miles."
I mentioned Raitt's vocals at the start of this review, and I'm going to end there, too. It's not that I'm ageist enough to think that someone in her 60s can sing as fluidly as Raitt does here — heck, her blues heroes were doing it a few decades beyond that. But it is rare for a performer who has maintained a 40-year career to sound so unfazed, so careful to avoid artistic short-cuts, so lacking in cynicism. She has the guile and shrewdness of a long-time pro, but it's the purity of this beautiful mongrel music that gives it its great life.