Mae West said, "Too much of a good thing is wonderful." On Longing in Their Hearts, the third release since Bonnie Raitts comeback, not much is different from Nick of Time (1989) and Luck of the Draw (1991)but whos 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 OKeefe and music by Raitt, is a toe-tapping story of a short-order cook: "Hes seen this/and hes done that/Now hes makin fried eggs an art/But theres one thing/he cant fix no how/theres a longing in his heart." Levon Helms harmonies blend beautifully with Raitts 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 Im 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: "Its a bitter heirloom handed down/these twisted parts we play/Im not her and youre not him/It just comes out that way." Bittersweet lyrics, Raitts soulful electric piano, and harmonies by David Crosby combine to create a memorable ballad.
On "Feeling of Falling," were reminded of Raitts earlier struggles (perhaps adventures turned sour), which may be past but are not gone: "Im through with all that mess/But the way Im 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 commentarywith lyrics and a driving beat in Bob Dylan style. While she is a self-described "Ms. Benefit," its new for her to write such lyrics as, "All your investments are turnin sour/Kinda spoils your happy hour." This glimpse of Raitts political voice is an important contribution here.
AMONG THECOVERS included on Hearts is Richard Thompsons "Dimming of the Day," one of his characteristically pained ballads. Its a great example of her ability to make anothers 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 outlike they think Im 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/dont make it easy/keep me workin/til I work it on out/Just please shine/enough light on me/til Im free/from this shadow of doubt."