Bonnie Raitt: Fundamental

Bonnie Raitt

WITH A BLAST of drums and some nasty slide guitar, Fundamental's lead cut, "The Fundamental Things," signals a change of direction for Bonnie Raitt before she's even opened her mouth. When she does start singing, she potently drives her point home. "Let's run naked through the city streets," she sings, inviting her lover to "howl and tremble in a sleepless grind." Credit her rebirth, perhaps, to new producers Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom, whose expert, experimental roots rock (see Los Lobos' sonic masterpiece Colossal Head) complements Raitt like red beans on rice.

Remember, the flawless, yuppified folk rock she created with Don Was won her a startling commercial revival and an armload of Grammys. Maybe becoming a diva of Dad Rock made her itchy. Seeing your records share space on the multidisc changer with the likes of James Taylor and Deep Forest in minivans across America can do that, I suppose. Artistic restlessness might have been the only motivation for her to call in the soundboys. And she makes her restless role in the collaboration plain on "Blue for No Reason," an ironic celebration of freedom, on which she complains that "everything's carefully prearranged" and that she feels "like a hired gun."

Blake and Froom's trademark artifice of orchestrated spontaneity gives Raitt's songs a homegrown, easygoing feel they haven't had in years. The duo let her showcase her raw guitar on "I Need Love." Yet they bury her voice beneath some elemental percussion on the J.B. Lenoir/Willie Dixon blues tune "Round & Round," subsequently coming up with a good approximation of listening to an old blues record. But the real story is what this new sound has done for her singing. Everybody's saying she hasn't sounded this good in 25 years; fact is, she's never sounded this good. The cherubic Radcliffe dropout turned blues mama who recorded the semiclassic Give It Up when Nixon was in the White House can't match the recovered alcoholic comeback queen she is a quarter century down the road. The old, wise Bonnie just needed a setting that gave her room to live it up like that young hotshot, and this is it. She moans and purrs her way through the David Hidalgo-penned standout "Cure for Love," and has never sounded coyer than she does while musing on sexual sparring during the Caribbean-tinged "I'm On Your Side." This triumphant return to form shows that some things, adult love songs among them, get better with age.

Bonnie Raitt plays Friday (sold out) and Saturday at the Orpheum Theatre; call 339-7007 or 989-5151.

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