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Bonnie Raitt Explores Her Roots In 'Dig In Deep'


This is FRESH AIR. Bonnie Raitt made an intention-getting appearance at the Grammys during a salute to B.B. King that won her wide acclaim. Raitt has a new album, her first since 2012. It's called "Dig In Deep," and finds the singer and guitarist exploring her roots in the blues, as well as rock and pop. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.


BONNIE RAITT: (Singing) Time, time ain't never healed a wound. Can't think of anything that gets any better because it's old. Change -

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Bonnie Raitt's singing has a clarity that rings out with renewed force and directness on that song, "I Knew," and indeed throughout this entire album, "Dig In Deep." Raitt has long had one of the most distinctive sounds in pop music. She has a way of phrasing a lyric that alternates between precise pronunciation that emphasizes the beat and a way of slurring a line that echoes her slide guitar playing to take deep plunges into the blues. You can hear this method at work in a slower, sadder song, the voice talking to itself in "All Alone With Something To Say."


RAITT: (Singing) Like a heartbeat, timing is everything. I took a look at love when love looked away. How cruel is it that fate has to find me all alone with something to say? I've been thinking, tweaking and rethinking all the things that I would tell you someday. I can hear it while I'm sitting here all alone with something to say. I want tell you I love you. I want to I tell you I'm sorry.

TUCKER: "Dig In Deep" is dominated by up-tempo songs, mixtures of the rhythm and blues Raitt has been playing for decades. She remains as influenced by the blues guitar she idolized when she was starting out in the '60s as she is by the Los Angeles rock funk of acts such as Lowell George's 1970s band Little Feet, or the more recent work of Los Lobos, one of whose songs she covers here. Raitt has spent a good chunk of her career finding different ways to convey what it feels like to live with a broken heart. On this album, one she produced herself, it sounds to me as though a major goal was to remind you and maybe herself that she really likes to have a good time now and then.


RAITT: (Singing) You've got a way of running your mouth. You rant and you rave and you let it all out. Nothing about it, little that you say is true. Why bother checking? The facts have been doubted. It's how you spin it as I'm crawling up there. Well, I'm here to tell you, honey, that I'm sick of always coming to you. Only so long you can keep the charade until they wake up and see their new play. Too many people with a living at stake ain't going to take it. The comin' round is going through. The comin' round is going through. You say it's worth it -

TUCKER: The title of the album, "Dig In Deep," comes from a line in the song "Unintended Consequence Of Love," about the hard work of a committed relationship. In emphasizing that phrase, Raitt digs in deep to establish a musical groove that communicates the sensual rewards of such hard work.


RAITT: (Singing) I'm calling on you, baby, now or never. Let's dig in deep and get out of this rut. We'll get back to what brought us both together, babe. Find a way to resurrect our strut because baby, you're my brave and tender lover. I know we've had a mighty promise, so come on, baby, back. We'll get this love on track. You're my unintended consequence of love, consequence of love.

TUCKER: At one point late in the album, Raitt puts down her guitar and goes over to the piano to sing a ballad she composed called "The Ones We Couldn't Be."


RAITT: (Singing) It's hard to say now who left first. It used to seem so clear. You and I were tangled from the start. Somehow, the scales just fell away. Now I'm left us standing here, blown open in the hole that was my part. I wrap the dark around me. There's no solace here tonight, just wishing in regret for company. My glass is raised for all the ways we tried to get it right, and I'm sorry for the ones we couldn't be. I'm so sorry for the ones we couldn't be.

TUCKER: "The Ones We Couldn't Be" is a song about misconnections, miscommunication, with the strong suggestion of two people who have endured a strained, possibly hostile relationship followed by a period of complete disconnection. Raitt sings about regret and an inability to find solace even as her voice and piano provide the listener with the peace her narrator cannot achieve. It's a beautiful work about people trying to be better than they are with a realism that such attempts at forgiveness and self-forgiveness rarely succeed. This complexity of thought and emotion is what gives "Dig In Deep" a vital glow.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Bonnie Raitt's new album, "Dig In Deep."


RAITT: (Singing) Well, that highway moon is calling like some lover from some other land. Before the dust can settle, I'll kick it up and tear it down again. I've got the wanderlust, it's somewhere else or bust. Yeah, I'm just a hello, goodbye honey. It's been good and I must be going. Restless, I guess, when I'm in one place for too long. I don't know why, but I'm like the wind and I just keep blowing free. Must be the gypsy in me, yeah.

DAVIES: Joe R. Lansdale is the award-winning author of the popular "Hap And Leonard" mysteries, the basis for a new series on the Sundance Channel. On tomorrow's FRESH AIR, Lansdale tells us about growing up poor in East Texas in the '50s and becoming a writer.

JOE R. LANSDALE: I wrote one short story every day for 90 days, and they were all awful.

DAVIES: He got better. He's published more than 40 novels. His latest is called "Honky Tonk Samurai." Hope you can join us. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Dorothy Ferebee is our administrative assistant. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.


RAITT: (Singing) I don't know why, but I like the wind and I just keep blowing free. Must be the gypsy in me, yeah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.
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