DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
Bonnie Raitt has a new album out today. It's called "Slipstream," and it's her first since "Souls Alike" in 2005. Raitt produced most of the album herself, which is unusual. Rock critic Ken Tucker says this return to recording and her renewed control over her music has resulted in one of Raitt's finest albums.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIGHT DOWN THE LINE")
BONNIE RAITT: (Singing) You know that I need your love. You got that hold over me. As long as I've got your love, you know I'll never leave. I wanted you to share my life. I had no doubt in my mind. And it's been you, oh, baby, right down the line.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: 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.
Listen to the way she takes this song co-written by Joe Henry and Loudon Wainwright III and sings the lyric with all of the precision and emotion her father, John Raitt, might have given a Broadway show tune that was as well written as this.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T FAIL ME NOW")
RAITT: (Singing) I know that fan is moving air. I can see it in your hair. But I can't bear to breathe it in somehow. I'll rise and fall with you, 'cause you can't fail me now. I'll rise and fall with you, 'cause you can't fail me now. Salt is sweet upon my mouth, and dark throws sparks against my house. The stain of love's a smudge upon my brow. But you see through me, and you can't fail me now. You see right through me, and you can't fail me now.
TUCKER: Raitt has always mixed folk with the blues and rock and the sort of funk that she would probably link to Lowell George and Little Feat, and 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 this album, and particularly the way she sets up the rhythm with her band and then slides her voice into it, like a letter going into an envelope addressed to you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T GONNA LET YOU GO")
RAITT: (Singing) Well, love came and hit me straight on the lips. The longer the kissing, the better it gets. And baby, that's all right. You've got me standing beside myself. No, it ain't like me. It's like I'm somebody else. But baby, that's all right.
TUCKER: 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, the multiple Grammy-winner "Nick of Time" from 1989. But my praise is more precise: This is Raitt's best album since her underrated 1975 collection "Home Plate."
I'm not just pulling that out for obscurity's sake, either. This new album "Slipstream" captures the kind of barnstorming fervor that can turn in the space of a song to a slow boil, the roiling storm of emotions contained within this cover of Bob Dylan's "Million Miles."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MILLION MILES")
RAITT: (Singing) You took a part of me that I really miss. I keep asking myself: How can long can it go on like this? You told yourself a lie. That's all right. I told myself one, too. Well, I try to get closer, but I'm still a million miles from you.
TUCKER: I mentioned Bonnie 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 it remarkable 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's maintained a 40-year career to manage 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, yes, purity of this beautiful, mongrel music that gives it its great life.
DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed Bonnie Raitt's new album, out today, called "Slipstream." It'll be streamed in full through tomorrow on the NPR website. You can find a link at freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of our show. You can join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @nprfreshair.