Bonnie Raitt has got chops a mile deep on slide guitar. Within a few seconds, her tone is instantly recognizable, with its bluesy bent and hint of lingering melancholy, as if she were trying to savor a note just a little bit longer before it vanishes. Memories linger in much the same way, and Raitt’s 20th album, “Dig in Deep” (Redwing), works as a survey of the singer’s past and a mature expression of where she is now.
Operating as her own producer and record company president, Raitt came roaring back after a seven-year hiatus to release the acclaimed “Slipstream” album in 2012, and the follow-up continues in a similar vein: showcasing the versatility of her veteran band in a variety of roots-rock idioms and underlining Raitt’s ability to make even songs she hasn’t written her own. Raitt’s interplay with her rhythm section on INXS’ “Need You Tonight” threatens to blow up its sultry vibe, and her slide guitar rips through Los Lobos’ “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” with a nastiness that is all the more thrilling because it disregards the otherwise clean production. Raitt is at her best when she lets her rough spots fly, and her performances on this record — as a guitarist and vocalist — rarely sound manicured or smoothed over.
Five Raitt originals, the most songs she’s contributed to one of her albums since the ’90s, up the ante. “The Comin’ Round is Going Through” provides an excuse to slam out a raspy riff-rocker worthy of Keith Richards in his Rolling Stones heyday. On “What You’re Doin’ to Me,” Raitt shifts to piano for some barrelhouse rock ‘n’ roll.
Another Raitt piano track does the deep digging promised by the album title. For all her reputation as a blues-rocker, Raitt is equally accomplished as a ballad singer (check out her defining covers of John Prine’s “Angel of Montgomery” or Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” in decades past).
On “Dig in Deep,” she ties together devastating performances of Bonnie Bishop’s “Undone” and Joe Henry’s acoustic “You’ve Changed my Mind,” with her own stark composition, “The Ones We Couldn’t Be.” After the anger and bitterness over a faded romance have melted with the years, the song’s narrator looks back on a relationship with a kind of rueful appreciation of what might’ve been, as if seeing all the possibilities clearly for the first time. Similarly, “Dig in Deep” prompts a fresh perspective on Raitt herself and a five-decade musical career that is still unfolding and revealing new facets.
“Dig in Deep”
3 out of 4 stars
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