Reignited: Bonnie Raitt steps into multifaceted ‘Slipstream,’ 1st album in 7 years
By Chris Talbott
April 10, 2012
Bonnie Raitt had been thinking about working with Grammy-winning producer Joe Henry for years. And Henry had been kicking around the idea of reaching out to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member whose voice he adores forever.
It wasn’t until mutual friend Allen Toussaint made a cosmic connection that the two finally got together, launching Raitt on the journey to “Slipstream,” her first new album in seven years. During a recording session with Aaron Neville, Toussaint coyly suggested that Henry work with Raitt in the future. And when Toussaint speaks, Henry always listens.
“He’s not like anybody else on this earth,” Henry said. “He’s like Yoda.”
The producer called the performer shortly thereafter and, as the great New Orleans producer and performer suspected, the chemistry between Raitt and Henry was dynamite.
“I was about a month away from thinking of calling and I got the contact from my office saying Joe wants to speak to you,” Raitt said. “And I just thought it was so synchronistic. It was one of those really great times, a really great phone call.”
That first call went on forever.
“I didn’t even do that when I was in high school, talk to someone on the phone for three hours, but we did,” Henry said. “And we talked about everything.”
That conversation led to several more and a flurry of emails, and eventually an invitation to come to Henry’s home studio in the Los Angeles area, where both live. He offered her his assistance and told her that if she would pay for the time of his musicians, the engineer and the catering, he would offer his services and his studio for free. And if she didn’t like the music that resulted, she was under no obligation to release it.
Henry’s invite came after a long period of relative inactivity for Raitt, 62. She’d lost her parents, her brother and a close friend over a five-year period that included the release of her last album, 2005’s “Souls Alike,” and touring both on her own and with Taj Mahal. So she took a break. After two years of little more than the occasional show, she began missing the road. But she didn’t think she was ready to put the energy into the recording and promotional work that was necessary produce an album, on which she could hang a tour.
So she really didn’t have elaborate expectations when she joined Henry. They thought they’d spend a few days on a handful of songs, but after three days, they had nine.
“It was like the pilot light was on, but he turned the gas up,” Raitt said.
They emerged from those sessions with four new cuts for the album— Henry compositions “God Only Knows” (perhaps the album’s standout) and “You Can’t Fail Me Now” (co-written with Loudon Wainwright III) and the Bob Dylan covers “Million Miles” and “Standing in the Doorway.” And Raitt emerged aflame with the need to pull her touring band together to cut more tracks. She eventually added eight others to “Slipstream” and the cuts left over from those Henry sessions will be released in some way after she completes tours of the United States, Australia and Europe over the next year.
“I just kept going,” Raitt said. “I just felt so ... ‘inspired’ is the word I’d use. It was so comfortable, inspirational, especially coming out of not being in capital letters, BONNIE RAITT. It was a great re-entry. It was just like someone put the paddles on your heart and said, ‘Welcome back.’”
“Slipstream,” her 19th album and her first on her own label, Redwing Records, is a mix of styles and flavors. Al Anderson, formerly of NRBQ, contributes three songs and plays on four, acting as a counterpunch to Henry’s more somber songs. And Raitt even offers a reggae version of Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line.”
“I’m as excited about playing these songs on the road as I was in the studio,” Raitt said. “And to have the jewels of these Dylan songs and the Joe Henry songs, and to know that I’ll have that other project come out is just a thrill for me, and reignited the passion I’ve always had for music and reinforced that connection I have with my band and how much I was born to do this. I’m as excited about this tour as I was the time I had my first album.”