The Common Good
July 1994

In Her Own Words

by Karen Lattea | July 1994

Bonnie Raitt's new release is personal and political

Mae West said, "Too much of a good thing is wonderful." On Longing in Their Hearts, the third release since Bonnie Raitt’s comeback, not much is different from Nick of Time (1989) and Luck of the Draw (1991)—but who’s complaining?

A compilation of blues rockers and pop ballads, of covers and originals, Hearts is a mixer that may entice even the wallflowers. Known for her thorough search for songs to record, Raitt gets our attention here with five of her own songs instead. Far from becoming complacent with success, Raitt is working as hard as ever.

The title song, with lyrics written by mate Michael O’Keefe and music by Raitt, is a toe-tapping story of a short-order cook: "He’s seen this/and he’s done that/Now he’s makin’ fried eggs an art/But there’s one thing/he can’t fix no how/there’s a longing in his heart." Levon Helm’s harmonies blend beautifully with Raitt’s melody, his voice as distinctive as it was in The Band.

The other originals are equally strong. "Cool, Clear Water" reflects a woman secure enough to handle intimacy, and the lyrics convey that desired vulnerability: "I want to feel my earth turn over, darlin’/til I’m rootless and unbound." Raitt seems to have kept her adventurous spirit even in marriage and adulthood, always looking for the edges of growth and risk.

Poignant early lessons of growing up are the subject of "Circle Dance," especially as the hurts and disappointments linger into present relationships: "It’s a bitter heirloom handed down/these twisted parts we play/I’m not her and you’re not him/It just comes out that way." Bittersweet lyrics, Raitt’s soulful electric piano, and harmonies by David Crosby combine to create a memorable ballad.

On "Feeling of Falling," we’re reminded of Raitt’s earlier struggles (perhaps adventures turned sour), which may be past but are not gone: "I’m through with all that mess/But the way I’m feelin’ now, darlin’/Well, it scares me half to death." Her very funky organ line helps to capture the feeling: The past was fun, maybe, but it was dangerous.

"Hell to Pay" is social commentary—with lyrics and a driving beat in Bob Dylan style. While she is a self-described "Ms. Benefit," it’s new for her to write such lyrics as, "All your investments are turnin’ sour/Kinda spoils your happy hour." This glimpse of Raitt’s political voice is an important contribution here.

AMONG THECOVERS included on Hearts is Richard Thompson’s "Dimming of the Day," one of his characteristically pained ballads. It’s a great example of her ability to make another’s song her own, in this case accompanied on acoustic guitar by the author himself.

In fact, credit is due to anyone shecovers. She goes through hundreds of songs a month, many sent to her by songwriters for audition. Said Raitt in a recent Musician interview, "The minute I hear slide [guitar] I throw it out—like they think I’m too stupid to figure out where the slide guitar would go."

She knows just how to handle the acoustic slide on the closing song, "Shadow of Doubt," a cover arranged as a lean-and-mean blues tune. Accompanied by her own tapping foot and veteran blues harp player Charlie Musselwhite (whose current release, In My Time, also merits attention), this song acts as a history lesson, for Raitt personally and for the blues in general: "Oh but Lord no/don’t make it easy/keep me workin’/til I work it on out/Just please shine/enough light on me/til I’m free/from this shadow of doubt."

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