By Shain Shapiro

God, Bonnie Raitt rocks. I mean it. She just plainly, simply, rocks, and Souls Alike, her eighteenth studio effort, released this summer, is undoubtedly one of her best. Often Raitt gets unfortunately glossed over due to her contemporary, mainstream successes, but in Souls Alike, she has a gritty, grimy treat to tread on, exhibiting the fact that this diva likes to show off the mud caked between the heel and sole of her designer boots.

Alongside fantastic accompaniment (including Jon Cleary and George Marinelli), Raitt runs through an entire influential catalogue in twelve tracks that includes forays into glittery pop, dark country, funk, soul, and most importantly, soulful, syrupy blues-rock. While the opening track, “I Will Not Be Broken,” is a contemporary, country-laced pop affair that embodies the crunchy, abrasive blues-influenced aesthetic that CMT lacks, “Trinkets” is a trip along the delta, complete with honky-tonk piano lines, slide-guitar, and a powerful, conversational lyric style that tells rather than asks. In addition, there is pop-infused gospel balladry (“God Was in the Water”), odes to fragile, southern blues (“I Don’t Want Anything to Change”), and experiments in electronic funk (“Deep Water”). Yet, everything this woman touches turns to gold on Souls Alike. While Raitt did not pen anything on Souls Alike, each tune sounds like her own because the blues goddess embodies a methodology that most mainstream singers lack. Instead of covering a song note-for-note, Raitt makes each song sound original, almost as if she is stealing the song, rather than celebrating its prowess. Regardless of style, nothing sounds forced or beyond Raitt’s ability, showcasing how good this woman is at cleverly calculating variation while housing the coagulated slip inside the same dusty framework.

But the superb musicianship and sugary vocals on Souls Alike are only responsible for half the album’s melodic authority. In addition, this collection is rife with Raitt’s trademark politicization, rolling through various social commentaries like the state in New Orleans, the plight of the middle class, and the escalating war with moderation commanded by the Bush administration and its allies. Raitt did lead the Rock the Vote tour and has an entire activism section of her website dedicated to the causes she supports, so this symbolism is nothing new, but on Souls Alike, the message transmits more fluidly than ever, possibly abetted by the nauseating state of the union. Still, Raitt does not just criticize conservatism (“Crooked Crown”). She also lays down a fierce message lambasting the societal apathy consuming the citizenry on the aforementioned “I Will Not Be Broken,” as well as throughout the album.

This is one all-encompassing, blues-rock-country political package, so turn off CMT, yell "Buck Fush" at the top of your lungs, and blast Bonnie Raitt’s Souls Alike throughout the neighbourhood, because I gotta tell you, that is exactly what she wants.

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[Published on: 12/3/05]

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