For Raitt The Main Ingredient Is Blues

by Kevin Burton

   An unexpected gift I received in the early 90s keeps on giving to this day. 

   My friend Sarah gave me a Bonnie Raitt cassette for no occasion or reason I know of.  I’m very happy she did. It’s unlikely I would have become so familiar with Raitt’s work otherwise.

   My 17th album challenge post is a tribute to the album “Nick Of Time” and to Bonnie Raitt.

   I didn’t listen to my gift cassette right away.  In those days I was spinning Billy Joel tunes, some Elton John and my Mexican stuff. The Christian music I listened to was of a similar style, Imperials or Keith Green.

   When I finally listened to Nick Of Time, there was a real sense of otherness to it. I was not sophisticated enough at the time to know what that otherness was. My musical palette had been pretty limited.

   But I liked the cassette. So let’s say I wanted to buy another Bonnie Raitt tape, which I most certainly did.  Where would I get it? What section of the record store (we still had such things then) would I look in?

   I misidentified the otherness of Bonnie Raitt as country.  That’s how my mind worked then. If it was American popular music and it wasn’t rock, it must be country. Even the FM radio stations I listened to had an AM-like top-40 format.    

   Later I would learn that the otherness was delta blues. Raitt’s music is highly influenced by delta blues. 

   When I tasted Cincinnati-style chili for the first time, I knew there was something different about it that separated it from what I had come to know as “chili.” I could never have guessed there was cocoa in the mix.

   That was a notable culinary lesson for me. Bonnie Raitt provided a bit of musical education. Nothing about my top-40 diet of Hall and Oates and Barry Manilow would have made me hip to the delta blues.

   Thanks to Raitt I have developed that taste.

   But Raitt is not just a blues singer. She had many influences. Among those she listed for Bob Costas on the Later show in 1989 were Aretha Franklin, Peter Paul and Mary and the Beatles as well as the delta blues masters.

   On Nick of Time you will hear rock, country, pop and blues. Her song “The Road’s My Middle Name,” is the one I would call pure blues.

    Just as you don’t taste chocolate in Cincinnati chili, you don’t always get a pure blues feeling from Raitt. But you know it’s there and you know how it’s flavoring the music.

   Raitt told Costas that “Nick of Time” represented clarity and maturity, a “coming out of a dark period.”

     Warner Brothers records had recently dumped her and she had ended a bad relationship.  She said her rock and roll lifestyle had caught up with her. She had to get off drugs and alcohol.  She has called “Nick Of Time” her “first sober album.”

   “It seemed that some changes needed to be made. I looked at myself and just felt I wasn’t being the best version of me that I could. I wasn’t going to blame anyone other than myself,” Raitt said, quoted on Wikipedia.

   With all that in mind, the first song “Nick Of Time” is the perfect title tune. It speaks to generational issues, parents aging, the biological clocks of women who want children. “Scared to run out of time,” is a refrain.  These lyrics are the words of a grown-up. They set a tone.

   My favorite song on the record is “Thing Called Love.”  That song has serious swing and the great lyric, “I ain’t no porcupine, take off your kid gloves.”

   It’s tough to be original writing a love song these days.  It’s all been said by now. Somehow in “Love Letter,” Raitt comes up with a little different twist.  Repeated elements, love letters love songs and the radio make for a winner, guaranteed.

   Check out the way Raitt delivers the word “deadly” in “I Will Not Be Denied.” It’s positively arresting.

   The album won three awards at the 1990 Grammies including album of the year for 1989.

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