Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bonnie Draws Right: Luck Of The Draw Is A Surprising Winner!

The Good: Voice, Humor, Lyrics, Guitarwork
The Bad: Shorter than I'd like, A little repetitive
The Basics: Surprisingly strong from start to finish, Luck Of The Draw is a fun and deep album that holds up remarkably well over many listens!

If anyone in the world had told me that there would come a day when I would be reviewing a classic U2 album like The Joshua Tree (reviewed here!) and a Bonnie Raitt album like Luck Of The Draw in the same day and that the Raitt album would come out on top, I would have told that person they were clearly crazy. After all, Luck Of The Draw opens with "Something To Talk About," a song so overplayed on the music video channel during the brief interval in the early 1990s when I had cable television that I would turn the station whenever it came on. Over fifteen years later, I am sitting listening to Luck Of The Draw for the ninth time and realizing that there are songs coming up I am looking forward to. Who would have thought?!

Certainly not me. But the truth is, Luck Of The Draw is a consistent album that mixes Bonnie Raitt as an artist with Raitt as a performer of other people's songs, with Raitt's instrumental abilities showcased throughout. And the album . . . rocks. The tracks are different from one another, lending a stimulating amount of diversity throughout the listening experience. Several of the songs play with irony or outright humor ("Good Man, Good Woman" and "Papa Come Quick (Jody And Chico)" come instantly to mind). The album is well-arranged and easy to listen to, a decent experience all the way around.

With twelve tracks, clocking out at 53:44, Luck Of The Draw is a collection of musical stories, emotive poems and soulful songs that represent the vocal and instrumental abilities of Bonnie Raitt. Raitt wrote three songs on the album and co-wrote an additional track. She is credited with co-producing the album, provides lead vocals on every track and plays an instrument on every track but "Not The Only One" and "I Can't Make You Love Me." Arguably, her voice is the only instrument needed on that latter track outside the piano. Somewhere, there are stripped down versions of that song which must be even more heartwrenching than the album cut! As it stands, Raitt plays three different types of guitar and the electric piano. Despite two-thirds of the album being written by other artists, it is hard to argue that Luck Of The Draw is not Bonnie Raitt's musical vision.

Here's where I usually leap right into evaluating the lyrics, vocals and instrumentals and tonight I am finding I am not eager to do that. Do you ever listen to something that you enjoy on a very visceral and complete level and you might not want to have to deconstruct it? That's where I am right now with Luck Of The Draw; it is a mostly fun album and I like it because it sounds good. The songs are catchy, they all sound different from one another and even the heartbreaking ones are memorable.

But, I suppose it wouldn't be much of a review to write "This is a fun album" and leave it at that.

Bonnie Raitt chose songs well for her voice and her sense of humor as a performer. As a result, a number of the tracks have some irony and she pairs with performers who seem to compliment her abilities. So, for example, John Hiatt wrote "No Business" and provides backing vocals on that song. Raitt makes it her own with her vocals, which sparkle with irony when she sings the biting lines "I kept track of all the love that I gave him / And on paper, well, it looked pretty good / He left a note that said he couldn't stay here / As if I could ... / I guess my love's got no business, no business calling his name . . ." ("No Business"). The song could be presented as a bitter anthem, but instead, it has a musing quality to it that makes it much more ironic. Indeed, one can almost hear Raitt smiling through her vocals.

Of course, she's not smiling on "One Part Be My Lover" or "I Can't Make You Love Me," the latter of which might well be in the Top Five Songs To Kill Yourself By (screw goths and emo! Bonnie Raitt knows how to tear out a heart!). On both tracks, Raitt is accompanied by slow keyboards as opposed to fast guitars, but the two tracks manage to be distinctly different. I remember being disappointed at one point to learn "I Can't Make You Love Me" was not written by Bonnie Raitt, because the lyrics moved me so much. Seeing her perform it live at my very first concert (she showed up for a stop at Lilith Fair I was at) was a transcendental experience. Truth be told, it's hard not to get shivers when she sings "I'll close my eyes, then I won't see / The love you don't feel when you're holdin' me / Morning will come and I'll do what's right / Just give me till then to give up this fight / And I will give up this fight. / Cause I can't make you love me if you don't / You can't make your heart feel something it won't . . ." ("I Can't Make You Love Me"). It's hearing a song like that over and over again when listening to Luck Of The Draw that makes one think of the fortitude some of these singers have. Sure, Raitt holds notes in the song for a beautiful and painful amount of time, but I mean that she has to be a pretty strong person to be able to sing it as often as she, no doubt, is called upon to.

Of course, not all of the songs are such that they might make the listener want to take their own life. No, quite fortunately, there are surprise songs like "Papa Come Quick (Jody And Chico)." The first time I heard this little musical story, it stood out in such a way that after many listens to "The Joshua Tree" in a row before hearing this song, it reminded me why I love music. Raitt surprised me with a funny little song about two kids who get high and pregnant and run off. This leaves the protagonist of the song calling "Papa come quick, Jody's gone to the city / What we gonna do now that Jody's gone . . . / Mama's been crying in the kitchen since mornin / She cried all the way through 'As The World Turns'" before they decide to "Gas up the old Ford, get out the road map / They got a head start about a half a day / Load up the shotgun, put it in the gun rack / Jody's with Chico down in East L.A." ("Papa Come Quick (Jody And Chico)"). This sort of song fits in with folk rock music that I like, but it is rare for me to hear a track like this sung by an artist like Bonnie Raitt. I swear, in her performance of it, one can hear her trying to keep from laughing. It's a fun, funny, little upbeat ditty and it works.

But Raitt also knows how to assemble an album, not simply putting her best works in the front of the album and she showcases her vocal talents very naturally throughout the album. Luck Of The Draw, the single, has equally good vocals as the incredible "I Can't Make You Love Me." And Raitt balances the slow melodies like "All At Once" with the fast, clever tunes like "Good Man, Good Woman."

It is hard to deny that Bonnie Raitt is talented. The four musical instruments she plays on the album are all played masterfully. Indeed, it's with reluctance that the fifteen year-old who still resides somewhere within me sees me write the words: even "Something To Talk About" illustrates a musical ability that is entertaining at its very least. Raitt plays three different guitars on that track and, frankly, she rocks while doing it. It's refreshing to get to an age where I can admit that.

Anyone who likes pop-rock or country music (which is not traditionally me) will find something to like on Luck Of The Draw, one of Raitt's crossover albums that is more firmly in pop-rock territory than Country.

The best track is "I Can't Make You Love Me," the least memorable track is "Tangled And Dark."

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


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page where the musical works are organized best to worst!

© 2013, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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