Monday, July 22, 2013

I Found Raitt, Right In The Nick Of Time.

The Good: Good songs, Decent lyrics
The Bad: One of Two weak links
The Basics: A shockingly good album, even if it's not perfect. Great for anyone who likes a strong female voice/performance.

When I was growing up, I loathed Bonnie Raitt. Before I get pelted with eggs for that, let me explain that I was young, somewhat ridiculous and my main reason was that I could not stand the music video for "Something To Talk About." Hated it. Still do. At the time, my family had its one and only three month trial with cable television and "Something To Talk About" was in high rotation on VH-1, keeping me from watching better videos (though I don't even recall now what those might have been). Recently, though, I've been giving Bonnie Raitt some attention and listening to a couple of her c.d.s. I went back to her beginning and listened to her debut and then jumped to her album Sweet Forgiveness. Why did I go through so much effort when most of my memories were negative?

“Nick Of Time.”

The very first concert I ever went to was Lilith Fair in Canandaigua, New York. I was going because I loved Sarah McLachlan, and I was impressed Natalie Merchant would be there. Mostly, I was going because the prime b-stage act was Heather Nova, easily one of the most amazing musical, vocal and lyrical talents of the past two decades. I was going because I figured I would never be able to get so close to her again (I got to meet here and get her autograph, as it turned out, but that's another story!). I was impressed enough that Bonnie Raitt would be on the main stage because, even though I was not a fan, I could recognize that she had some talent and that she was certainly a draw. At one point in her set - most of which I was busy meeting Heather Nova and glowing over my autograph for - Raitt began to perform her song Nick Of Time. I HEARD it for the first time that day, genuinely heard it and it made me sit down and shut up, I was so impressed.

Now, almost a decade later, I've finally picked up a copy of Nick Of Time and as I listen to it for the twelfth time, I continue to be impressed by that first single in a way that the rest of the album does not grab me. For those who have not heard it, the mildly successful single (bafflingly, "Have A Heart" peaked at 48, while Nick Of Time only peaked at 92 in the U.S.) from arguably Raitt's most successful album (the album hit #1, while her follow-up with "Something To Talk About" peaked at #2, though it might have sold more copies than this album) is a story-song about the mysteries of love and the importance of not giving up on it.

Nick Of Time, the single, tells a series of stories; a friend who wants a baby and feels time running out, a woman seeing her parents getting older and her getting older as well, and the near-miss of a woman who was about to give up on every finding love. The song works through with a simple, honest refrain of "She's scared / Scared to run out of time" until the final, joyful chorus where the narrator declares, "I found love! / Love in the nick of time" (Nick Of Time). It's a song that makes one contemplative, moody and maybe even a little depressed until that final twist. Then, it's a rejoicing.

I could literally keep that single on repeat for two hours without getting tired of it. It has an infectious drum track, it has great vocals and the lyrics are tight. It is the peak of Bonnie Raitt as an artist; she wrote the lyrics, music and performed it while playing her guitar. The track won her two Grammy awards (the album won Album of the Year in 1989, the same year Raitt won "Best Female Pop Vocal Performance" and "Best Female Rock Vocal Performance" for the single). It's one of those rare occasions where the voters got it absolutely right.

But then there's the rest of the album. There's the honky-tonk sounding "Thing Called Love" which uses such inventive lyrics as "I ain't no porcupine / Take off your kid gloves / Are you ready for this thing called love?" There's the monotonous "Love Letter" which repeats too many of the lines or words over and over again and there's the sad and soulful presentation of "Cry On My Shoulder." I'm sure I'd heard "Love Letter" before, though it appears to never have been released as a single.

"Have A Heart," the single that performed best on the charts I've heard as a reggae song, but here it's just a soft rock track with a bluegrass feel to it. The album closes with Raitt performing the only other track on the album she wrote herself, which is "The Road's My Middle Name." The irony of this is that out of all of the tracks, "The Road's My Middle Name" sounds most like a Country-Western/Southern rock standard. The twangy guitars and jowly vocals on the track make it sound most like a bluegrass standard of long ago. Go figure! Raitt can write and perform flawlessly in the sound and style of days of yore. It's in interesting contrast on an album that is otherwise very modern.

Sadly, that cuts the album some. "Nick Of Time" (the single) may well be a perfect track, but the album is by no means a perfect album. Some of the songs have pathetically predictable rhyme schemes and meanings that are so dumbed down as to be utterly common, like, "I'm not messing with a toy / I don't need no baby boy / I want a real man!" ("Real Man"). "Real Man" stands out as a track that seems to be an epitome of feminine bravado in the face of no real masculine challenge. It's a bold declaration that somehow sounds as limited and pathetic as a guy singing about how he wants a woman with big breasts. My point is the song is all about the most stereotypical aspects of manhood as what the narrator wants and after the depth and attitude of songs like "Nick Of Time" and "Too Soon To Tell," the listener deserves better.

Beyond that, the album is produced in a way that often minimizes the greatness of Bonnie Raitt the guitarist. I'm not denying that Raitt is a fabulous guitarist; she is. On Nick Of Time (the album), she plays guitar, slide guitar and the piano. She's an instrumental master. The problem with the album is too often her guitarwork is sublimated. While it's not a problem to drown Raitt's guitarwork with Raitt's voice, the problem is on many of the tracks, she drowns her guitarwork with the drums. If you've ever heard "Thing Called Love," it's all Bonnie Raitt's brassy voice lashing out the singsong lyrics and the sound of the snares and cymbals. The dominant instrumentation is the percussion and it's quite effective for getting the listener up and dancing. But it does not showcase her guitarwork as well as it ought.

That ought not to be enough to scare the listener away. This is a surprisingly strong pop-rock album and the vocals and lyrics are wonderful, though the best songs are the two written by Raitt. And when one can hear the guitarwork, it does go a long way to illustrating why there is much to love about Bonnie Raitt and this is the album to fall in love with her over.

The best track is "Nick Of Time" (by lightyears!), the weakest is "Real Man."

For other works by Bonnie Raitt, please check out my reviews of:
Bonnie Raitt
Sweet Forgiveness
“Something To Talk About” (single)


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the albums and singles I have reviewed!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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