Bonnie Raitt’s first album in seven years finds the music veteran teaming up with her longtime band as well as joining forces with producer Joe Henry and his coterie of musicians. It also finds her on her own label, Redwing Records. The intervening years between albums have been hard ones. Raitt has been dealing with the loss of both parents, her brother Steve Raitt, one of her closest friends, and in January, her musical pal, Etta James. Although Slipstream doesn’t dwell on loss it and other life circumstances do inform Raitt’s choice of material. This is an album from a mature artist who expresses herself through the carefully chosen songs of a roster of stellar songwriters.
Slipstream was recorded in two parts. The first sessions were held in producer Joe Henry’s home studio. Henry called in his regular crew of studio musicians, Jay Bellerose, Greg Leisz, David Piltch, Patrick Warren, and guest guitarist Bill Frisell – only some of the best players in the business. The first song they recorded was Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles” an ambling blues number that nicely picks up on Raitt’s early roots. If you’ve listened to Henry’s solo work or his production on other albums you’ll recognize the mid-tempo rhythms and the attention to detail that emerges from his work. Raitt and Frisell, two of the finest guitarist of their generation, accentuate each other’s styles through contrasting chords. It’s collaboration rather than competition that highlights their unique talents. Three other songs from this session make the record, including a “You Can’t Fail Me Now” a song co-written by Joe Henry and Loudon Wainwright III. It’s a love song about the reality of long-lived relationships. The other two tracks are Dylan’s “Standing In the Doorway” and another Henry song, “God Only Knows.” Again, these songs are ballads that explore lived-in lives. It is in these songs that Raitt gives voice, albeit subtly, to the bittersweet beauty of survival.
Raitt switches tempos and moods for the Ocean Way Studio portion of the recording. Teaming up with her long time touring band she tears into songs that leap from blues to rock to reggae. Hutch Hutchinson, Ricky Fataar, George Marinelli, and Mike Finnegan help ignite that swagger that has defined Raitt’s playing and singing style throughout her career. Slipstream opens with Randall Bramlett’s “I Used To Rule the World” a song that defines the adult contemporary genre. A cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line” is updated with a reggae riff. “Hollywood Marriage” features lyrics by Raitt’s ex-husband Michael O’Keefe.
Raitt shows, as usual, impeccable taste in choosing material from great song writers. Al Anderson, formerly of NRBQ, has written hit songs for a wide range of artist and Raitt covers three of his songs. Anderson also appears on the album, and although she doesn’t use their songs on this album she invited her buddies Maia Sharp and Paul Brady to join in on backing vocals. It’s another stellar release from a woman who sets the standard for consistency in the every changing world of popular music.