VERY FEW LONG-distance runners have the personal quality control settings locked as high as Bonnie Raitt. In a recording career that now spans 45 years, she’s repeatedly proved herself a self-editor of remarkable taste and discipline, creating a catalogue with very few creative missteps, even if, like one of those riders on financial ads, her commercial fortunes can go down as well as up. But down is not going to be on the agenda any time soon.
Dig In Deep, Raitt’s 17th studio entry, seizes the momentum of 2012’s Slipstream, which led to her 10th Grammy Award. Tellingly, that release was followed by 200-plus worldwide tour dates, joyously delivered with one of the strongest band line-ups ever at her disposal. Happily, there’s more of that coming soon.
It all sounds like a laughably simple plan: make good music, both new and interpretative, with a fearsome live ethic that transfers directly to the road (which, as Raitt once told us, is her middle name). But then not everyone is writing and playing to this stellar benchmark. Self-produced, apart from one credit shared with Joe Henry from a 2010 session, and again in the liberating milieu of her own record label, Dig In Deep does exactly what the title promises it will. The emphasis here is on blues rock that’s funky and fun, on ballads that eschew the formulaic to deliver emotional depth and on some irresistibly infectious playing.
From the get-go, Unexpected Consequence Of Love sets the tone with a nicely turned, typically grown-up lyric about ‘brave and tender lovers’ hitting choppy waters. It’s vividly illustrated with Raitt’s superb signature slide, George Marinelli’s supportive guitar and Mike Finnigan’s lairy B3, admirably framed by James ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson’s elastic bass and former Beach Boy Ricky Fataar’s drums. You really do have to name them all because like Alison Krauss in another discipline, the name above the title is so much more than just a celebrity: they’re equal members in a band that share everything. Then, just as Slipstream threw in an early curveball with Gerry Rafferty’s Right Down The Line, the new one shakes it up with a version of INXS’ Need You Tonight that reupholsters the original, not even drawing on its trademark guitar riff until later in the piece.
Raitt seeds no fewer than five compositions of her own among seven interpretations. Of the latter, only one is truly familiar, in the form of Los Lobos’ Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes. The blend is seamless because her rules dictate the highest standards from all sources, including her own. Among her new copyrights, she’s frisky on What You’re Doin’ To Me and fiery on The Comin’ Round Is Going Through. There’s also deep, rueful reflection on Bonnie Bishop’s Undone (where she regrets words delivered in anger, with the ‘sword at the tip of my tongue’), and Gordon Kennedy and Steven Dale Jones’ equally poignant All Alone With Something To Say. Finally, there’s Raitt’s own The Ones We Couldn’t Be, an unadorned, lovelorn piano ballad to break any heart. Digging in deep has unearthed true riches.