by JENNIFER LIEBRUM
Bonnie Raitt knows how to get into people’s minds in a way that were her intention evil, she surely could lead legions like lemmings off the cliff into the sea.
Her hypnotic style of slinky funky blues comes from tapping into the psyche of humanity and locking the listener in an emotional lockstep whether it’s a new story or a familiar one retold.
“All the women and men in the audience—you’re singing for their sexuality, their longing, their heartbreak, their anger, their loneliness,” she told The New York Times recently. “In an evening you’re getting around to all those. That’s why it’s so cathartic to do it together.”
Raitt will take the stage at the Sun Valley Pavilion on Thursday, Aug. 30, with special guest Mavis Staples, for a show she called “a soul-sisters extravaganza” after the pair appeared on the music showcase on PBS’s “Austin City Limits” to record a show for this fall.
Raitt has been touring heavily since the debut of her first album in seven years, “Slipstream,” and wasn’t giving interviews. Staples, 72, reserved the right to save her energy for the crowd when declining a pre-appearance chat.
But these blockbusters have accumulated a war chest of musical history, apart and together, and the double-header promises an evening packed with formidable female voices with a rhythm and blues backing.
“We come this evening to bring you some joy, some inspiration and some positive vibrations,” Raitt said during the “Austin City Limits” taping.
Expect no less when she takes the stage this week. This is a woman who knows what the crowd wants and how to deliver it, having started making music at age 10 with her groundbreaking family group, the Staple Singers. Her latest release, “You Are Not Alone,” with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy,
cemented Staples’— a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner and National Heritage Fellowship Award recipient—place as one of Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.”
With the release of her 19th album, “Slipstream,” Raitt is experiencing a rebirth of sorts. Though much of the material is not a radical departure in sound, it’s how she arranged and presented it through the experimental sessions with celebrated producer Joe Henry that has critics raving much like they had the incredible “Luck of the Draw” with its memorable heartbreakers like “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”
This album, they’ve said in reviews, reveals a richer, deeper
understanding of life by Raitt, a subtle seasoning that she credits to a spell of tough times and deaths.
“I got taken to the bottom and built myself slowly, learned about some things, let some feelings come out. I hope it shows in my voice,” she told The New York Times. “It would be crazy to go through something like that and not have come out of it a little deeper person.”
The red-headed Raitt, who nicknames her signature white forelock her “Pepe Le Pew thing” has long had an activist heart and a civil rights soul. As a Harvard/Radcliffe student in the 1960s, she majored in social relations and African studies. It was a time of cultural explosions and political shifts, with a soundtrack being drafted for the ages by giants like Muddy Waters, Sippie Wallace, John Lee Hooker, Fred McDowell and Son House.
She didn’t take long to prove that her insights into people were as keen as her handling of a blues guitar, and she began racking up albums and awards as well as a platform to espouse her pet causes, among them stopping the war in Central America, rights for women and Native Americans, protection of the environment and safe energy. Today’s causes include Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Rainforest Action Network and Music Maker Relief Foundation, all filled with her unwavering belief in the redemptive power of music.
Back on stage, guitar slung around her neck, a host of new songs under her belt, including a reggae-infused version of Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line” and Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles,” Raitt is once again plundering the psyche in a cathartic exercise sure to cleanse the soul.
In her website notes, she explained her choice of the title “Slipstream” not just as a beautiful-sounding word, but as an indication of her place in the music community.
“I’m in the slipstream of all these styles of music,” she stated. “I’m so inspired and so proud to continue these traditions, whether it’s reggae or soul or blues. I’m in the slipstream of those who came before me, and I’m leaving one for those behind me. I’m holding up the traditions of the music that I love.”
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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.