The good news first: Bonnie Raitt plays more guitar on Green Light than on any album in years, the band boasts a "live" feel that makes the rock & roll cuts really kick, and the record contains one of Raitt's very best performances. Eric Kaz' "River of Tears" begins with a majestic, rolling hook uncannily reminiscent of the Rolling Stones' "Tumbling Dice," while the lovelorn lyrics stir Raitt's singing to a passionate yearning. She's joined on the choruses by Richard Manuel's urgent harmonies, and her own spicy slide-guitar playing adds snap. "River of Tears" peaks with a couple of piercing notes as wrenching as any Raitt has ever sung.
Alas, as with each of Bonnie Raitt's previous albums, the brilliant moments on Green Light have to compete with uninspired song choices and routine performances. The Equals' "Baby Come Back" and NRBQ's "Me and the Boys" are decent enough numbers, but they could be sung by anyone, and the self-consciously punky title track could pass for Sue Saad and the Next. These cuts stall the record's momentum, diffusing the high points and ultimately preventing it from being the event it should be.
It's sad and frustrating that Raitt — a great singer, a fine guitarist and one of the most appealing performers in the business — has never made an LP that's lived up to her potential. Her earliest albums, sparsely produced and largely acoustic, came closest to capturing the genuineness that's her biggest charm. But as the artist started trying to balance her folk-blues-pop repertoire with front-line rock & roll, she began drifting from producer to producer and her records became less focused and less original. The $64,000 question: why can't Bonnie Raitt be real and rock out at the same time?