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NPR First Listen: Bonnie Raitt, 'Slipstream'

There are two ways to carry old practices forward: Preserve or adapt. Both approaches have their ups and downs. Mere preservation can turn something hard, laying on the sheen of authenticity that masks death within. Adaptation can dilute a thing's essence so thoroughly as to render it unrecognizable.

The most skillful practitioners of a tradition — the blues, for example — swim between these two lanes with a fluidity which belies the thought and effort that makes their work so smooth. Bonnie Raitt has been doing this since 1971, when she emerged as a redheaded hope for a musical style that had already been co-opted by many an overblown classic rocker. With a voice as buttery as grits and a remarkable capacity for playing bottleneck guitar, Raitt quickly earned her place on the dais with forebears like Sippie Wallace and Howlin' Wolf. But she also had a great pop sense, finding kinship with contemporary songwriters like Jackson Browne. (Continued...)