Bonnie Raitt Just Keeps Getting Better

Only so long you can keep this charade
Before they wake up and see they’ve been played
Too many people with their livin’ at stake
Ain’t gonna take it.
The comin’ round is going through
The comin’ round is going through.

It’s not often a single stanza can sum up a whole political system. But those words from Bonnie Raitt ring truer every day as this pathetic “selection” season lurches ever deeper into astounding ugliness.

As evidenced by her new album, Dig in Deep, and her current concert tour, the opposite is true of Ms. Raitt, whose astonishing talent and endless heart just keep growing.

By way of disclosure, I’ve had the privilege of working with Bonnie on nuclear and other issues since 1978.

At the end of July I had the good fortune to see her perform at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. She is on a long tour now, and if you get the chance to catch one of her shows, don’t pass it up.

Having watched her perform for nigh on 40 years, through 10 Grammys, 20 albums and countless concerts, I continue to be amazed by the level of professionalism, heart and freshness she brings to the halls. There is never a dull moment in her shows, never a lag or a lapse. She is humble, conscientious and committed to her audiences. She laughs, she banters, she is on top of things.

You say it’s workin’, it’s tricklin’ down
Yeah, there’s a trick, cause the jobs ain’t around

That’s from her most recent album, which is a treasure. It’s distinguished most notably by the number of songs she’s written herself.

“The Comin’ Round Is Goin’ Through,” quoted here, is her political piece. Raised a Quaker, Bonnie is committed to nonviolent solutions to poverty, racism and ecological destruction. Our work over the years has largely centered on helping to end nuclear power. She was a headliner and board member in our legendary 1979 “No Nukes” concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York, and continues to support the movement for a green-powered future to which so many of us are still committed.

If You Need Somebody is a subtle, savvy ode (and come-on) to a good friend falling in love with the wrong person. “Unintended Consequence of Love” is a bid to win back a lost partner. What You’re Doin’ to Me is a celebration of an affair on the right track.

“And The Ones We Couldn’t Be” is a devastatingly beautiful ballad to a love gone definitively wrong for immutable reasons traceable only to fate or nature. At its core the song acknowledges the reality that sometimes, no matter how strong the attraction, there are those who just don’t belong together:

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
And I’m left standing here
Blown open in the hole that was my part.

As she writes more songs, Bonnie’s mastery of the language has deepened and grown. They are interesting, subtle, worth reading on their own.

She choreographs her concerts the same way. This is a woman whose father was a legendary Broadway and film star, and who’s performed with the likes of Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Ruth Brown, Mick Jagger, Jackson Browne, CSN and innumerable other masters of musical universe.

So you go to her shows for some blues, some gospel, some rock, some ballad, some folk, some politics, some Broadway … wherever her soul, timing and humor take you. “If I do one more sad song,” she said after singing “I Can’t Make You Love Me at the Greek” … “I’ll have to shoot myself.”

John Prine’s masterpiece “Angel from Montgomery” is always there, along with her very comfortable, well-oiled team of Ricky Fatarr, George Marinelli, Mike Finnigan and Hutch Hutchinson. She told the Greek that Hutch has been with her “longer than Jesus walked the Earth.”

Finnigan played alongside Jimi Hendrix and rocked the hall with a killer rendition of B.B. King’s Don’t Answer the Door that reeked of raunch and history.

With an independent record label of her own (Redwing Records) and a core management/label team run by former Greenpeace mainstay Kathy Kane, Bonnie still hosts information tabling by movement organizations at every concert (coordinated by Tom Campbell’s legendary Guacamole Fund). Fundraising on tour supports non-profit organizations working toward a safe and sustainable energy future, environmental protection, blues/music education, social justice and human rights.

“I can’t believe at 66 I’m still doing this,” she gratefully told her hometown crowd.

Let’s hope for 66 more.

Harvey Wasserman helped co-found the grassroots No Nukes movement and edits www.nukefree.org, which is supported by Bonnie, Jackson and Graham Nash. He wrote SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth and America at the Brink of Rebirth: The Organic Spiral of US History, due out soon.

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