Bonnie Raitt is such a class act it’s easy to forget she’s kind of a badass: Harvard African Studies major-turned-world-class-blueswoman, slide-guitar master, platinum pop star and a singer-songwriter with interpretive skills so sharp she once turned “Baby Mine,” the maternal lullaby from Dumbo, into a seduction. Slipstream, her first album in seven years and the first she has self-released, is a loose and adventurous reminder of everything she does well.
The LP divides into two parts, the larger featuring an enhanced version of her touring band. A cover of Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 hit “Right Down the Line” adds a reggae groove so right it rivals the original. “Take My Love With You” shows Raitt’s knack for infusing soft, sweet songs with true soul, a quality that’s earned her admiration from kindred spirits (like Adele, who has recently covered her). Guitar jams stretch out but don’t overstay their welcome. The more intriguing material comes from a session with avant-roots producer Joe Henry and a band featuring guitarist Bill Frisell. Standouts are a heartbreaking “Standing in the Doorway,” one of two Bob Dylan covers (“Million Miles” is the other) and “You Can’t Fail Me Now.” “You bite my tongue,” Raitt sings on the latter, in a warm, precise alto, Frisell dispensing notes like drops of lover’s blood. It’s mood music with a razor edge, pain fronting as bliss, delivered by a vet who understands that the blues are often about just that.
Listen to Bonnie Raitt’s “Right Down the Line”: