- - Monday, April 9, 2012

Slipstream

Bonnie Raitt

Redwing Records

★★★½

Bonnie Raitt gives everyone something to talk about with “Slipstream,” her most convincing album in decades.

The singer was dealt blow after blow during the seven years that separated her last album from her current release, with the deaths of her parents, brother and best friend doing the most damage. Here, she funnels her grief into a set of warm, well-worn blues songs.

“Slipstream” is a gorgeous record, its 12 tunes filled to the brim with gauzy Hammond organ and Southern-styled slide guitar riffs, but it’s Miss Raitt’s voice - a soulful purr that sounds smooth and sturdy at the same time, like beaten leather - that gives “Slipstream” its rootsy authenticity.

Being the queen of modern-day Americana hasn’t sapped Miss Raitt’s work ethic. Rather than cool her heels in the vocal booth while her top-notch backup band lays down every track, she rolls up her sleeves and gets to work herself, playing a blistering guitar solo one minute and strumming her way through a lush, midtempo groove the next. Miss Raitt isn’t just a singer; she’s a musician, and it’s nice to see her getting into the thick of things.

As usual, she does rely on a few outsiders when it comes to writing the songs. Most of her biggest hits from previous decades - “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” “Something To Talk About,” “Love Sneaking Up On You” - were written by others, and “Slipstream” strikes a similar balance between original material and cover tunes. The covers are well-known tunes by the likes of Bob Dylan and Gerry Rafferty, though, and “Slipstream” winds up functioning as a sort of stylistic link between Miss Raitt and her 20th century influences, proof that there’s not much difference between their craft and hers.

Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation)

Counting Crows

Collective Sounds

★★½

Also paying tribute to their influences are the Counting Crows, who fill their sixth album with songs originally recorded by the Faces, Fairport Convention and others.

“Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation)” suffers from the same problems that haunt most cover albums. Some of the recordings steer too closely to the original versions, while others shoot themselves far into left field, sacrificing the songs’ best qualities for the sake of trying something new. Also, when a band regularly takes as long as six years to release a new album, you can’t help but wish for something more substantial than a straightforward cover of the Byrds’ “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.”

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