The best thing about Bonnie Raitt is her singing, and the best thing about Give It Up is that she sings great from beginning to end; in doing so, she successfully handles a far greater range of styles and material than on her first album and has produced a more interesting and satisfying record in the process.
On Bonnie Raitt, she was aiming for a more self-conscious, old-fashioned, technically limited approach to recording. The album had its moments, most notably her reworking of “Bluebird,” but the imposed context finally seemed unnatural, obscuring our ability to respond to her real talents rather than helping to illuminate them.
The production on Give It Up, is much broader, including the use of a good number of Woodstock-based musicians, and the recording style, while undistinguished, is also uninhibiting. There was apparently plenty of overdubbing and more room for the musicians to develop their own points of view towards the material — and yet Bonnie comes out right on top of the whole thing, her precise, erotic, thoroughly disciplined voice providing a perfect center for this gutsy enterprise.
I have mixed feelings about her versions of two early Sixties hits, Barbara George’s “I Know” and Freddie Scott’s “If You Got to Make a Fool of Someone.” Bonnie loosens them up a bit, the musicians shine, (Mark Jordan’s piano on the former, Marty Grebb’s sax on the latter) but they seem somehow unnecessary. “Love Me like a Man,” a song by an excellent Boston writer and performer, Chris Smither, here comes off as a conventional white blues and somewhat ordinary at that.
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That leaves seven other cuts and Bonnie makes every one of them count. Her version of Jackson Browne’s “Under the Falling Sky” is a simmering piece of rock & roll that stays hard on the line between raunch and unnecessary stylization. A new song by Joel Zoss, “Stayed Too Long at the Fair,” is not only sung but played to perfection, as Eric Kaz’s piano weaves in and out of the arrangement at just the right moments. “You Got to Know How” has got a Twenties jazz-blues feel, with some nice double-entendre lyrics.
The nicest surprise of the album is Bonnie’s three originals. The title song is just what you would expect — a sexually explicit song about a hard choice her man has to make. But “Nothing Seems to Matter” takes things in the other direction, more melodic, not into a strict rock strait jacket, and just as valid for Bonnie. Finally, “You Told Me Baby” is one of the two best things on the album. Somewhat similar to Wings’ version of “Love Is a Strange,” it is elegantly underpinned by a reggae rhythm, overlayed with some terrific John Hall electric guitar and sung with some explicitly soulful directness.
The album’s best cut, “Love Has No Pride,” was written by Eric Kaz and Libby Titus and closes the album on a note that will convince anyone that Bonnie Raitt can sing anything right. It is a beautiful ballad performed only with fretless bass, piano, and guitar accompaniment, and despite the fact she didn’t write it, it seems to sum up the perspective of all her music concerning the necessity for love, on any terms you can handle it:
Love has no pride when I call out your name
Love has no pride when there is no one left to blame
I’d give anything, to see you again.