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Bonnie Raitt soars 'Just Like That' on new album and savors her fans' feedback

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Bonnie Raitt can pinpoint exactly how she has impacted her most devoted listeners.

And it has little to do with her eight Grammy Award wins between 1990 and 1992, her 2000 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Lifetime Achievement Grammy she received earlier this month, or her being the first female musician ever honored by Fender with a signature series of Stratocaster electric guitars back in 1995.

"The two greatest compliments I get, to this day, are: 'You are one of the few musicians my mom and I can share,'" Raitt said, her voice tinged with pride.

"The other is: 'I've never seen my husband cry, until we go to your show, and you sing "Angel from Montgomery" or "I Can't Make You Love Me."' They send me handwritten letters, and it is absolutely gratifying."

Raitt may soon be getting a fresh slew of fan mail from grateful listeners.

"Just Like That ...," her first new studio album in six years, is both one of the most heartfelt and most daring works in her storied 51-year recording career.

Raitt's always-expressive singing is more soulful and nuanced than ever, while her songwriting achieves new levels of craft and sophistication. The music is exquisitely crafted but also isn't over-thought or over-played. It sounds very much like the work of an iconic artist who is at the top of her game and still pushing to forge new creative paths that build on her past accomplishments.

As an added bonus, the almost telepathic interplay with her band members belies the fact they could not make music with each other for an extended period because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When Raitt and her fellow musicians reconvened last year in a woodsy recording studio north of San Francisco, they had a shared sense of gratitude and celebration that is evident in each note that is played and sung on "Just Like That..."

"I can feel it in the tracks on the album how thrilled we are to be playing together again," said Raitt, whose "Just Like That ..." tour with fellow Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Mavis Staples is her first since 2019.

"You can't underestimate the impact of having canceled four or five tours, or of two years of not playing together. Now we're getting ready for a tour, and we all have vaccines in our bodies.

"So many times, it looked like we would have the record done and go out on a tour, but didn't. As sad as I am about all the things there are to be sad about in the world, I am so thrilled we now have that chance again."

Raitt is quick to note that the pandemic did not affect her nearly as much as the concert tour production crew members and theater, arena and club employees whose livelihoods evaporated overnight.

"Forget the joy of collaborating and being on the road, although that's a huge loss," she said. "But the loss of all the income and security for the people I work with was much bigger. So the least I could do is take the income I have earned over the years and spread it to the people I worked with.

"Because we thought we were going to tour Canada three or four times with James (Taylor), I had to reserve and hold my tour crew, which works six to eight months in a normal year. When my tour was postponed several times, paying them was the right thing to do. When the tour was canceled altogether, it was still the right thing to do.

"We're all a family. And I can't think of a better use of my income than to spread it around to the people who helped me get here in the first place."

Her 2022 "Just Like That ..." tour is her first opportunity to perform songs from her new album live, and the first for audiences to hear her new material in person.

Raitt is a great believer in giving each song she records — whether written by her or someone else — ample time to gestate and evolve.

The fact that, since 2011, her albums have come out on her own label, Redwing, ensures she does not face the deadline pressures that are often a fact of life for many artists in the music industry.

"Like I would have let a record company tell me anything!" Raitt said with a laugh. "I told both labels that I was with (before Redwing): 'I'll decide what I write, what I record, with who, when it comes out, and be in charge of my music. And I will work my tail off, tour and do a lot of interviews.'

"In terms of my own songwriting, I write on assignment. When I know that I have seven or eight songs of other people's that I want to do, I have them percolating for as long as they need to.

"Like, (NRBQ band co-founder) Al Anderson's 'Something's Got a Hold of My Heart,' I've had waiting for 30 years for me to put on the right record. The Toots and the Maytals' song, 'Love So Strong,' which is on my new album, I've had (waiting to do) since 2016.

"When I have a batch of songs (by other writers) framed out, I look at what other things I want to say. And one of the ways I stretched on this album was with the 'story songs' — 'Down the Hall' and 'Just Like That.' I mostly write for myself."

On the song "Living for the Ones," which she co-wrote with her longtime guitarist George Marinelli, Raitt was also writing for family members and close friends who have passed away. The music rocks with fervor, while the lyrics examine issues of mortality with sensitivity and insight gained from personal experience and loss.

"'Living for the Ones' is the one song on my new album that I wrote during the pandemic," she said. "That's how I started feeling when I lost my brother in 2009 and he couldn't walk or see in last six months of his life. Whenever you're living with somebody who is losing the ability to live, you very quickly stop complaining about your own pains. So I had a lot of practice (for the pandemic)."

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