Album of the Week, June 16: Nick of Time by Bonnie Raitt

RaittNickNeither Bonnie Raitt nor her new label could know how aptly they titled her tenth album. Raitt was born in Burbank, CA in 1949, the daughter of Broadway star John Raitt and pianist Marjorie Haydock. With music flowing in her veins, she picked up the guitar at age 12 and developed a roots rock style based on her love of R&B and blues classics. She is recognized as one of the finest guitarists around, with a distinctive bottleneck style. She signed with Warner Bros. in 1970 and recorded nine albums for them over the next twelve years. She toured incessantly and made a second career of her social activism and support of legendary blues musicians who did not have the financial backing of the companies that benefited from their work. She wrote a couple of songs for each album and had a great knack for selecting material to cover, ranging from blues classics to contemporary singer-songwriters and rock classics. Despite a strong critical following and decent sales, she never broke through and Warner dumped her after 1986’s Nine Lives. Raitt took stock of her life and career, cleaning up her drug and alcohol problems and planning a new record.

Title Nick of Time
Act Bonnie Raitt
Label Capitol Release Date  3/21/1989
Producer Don Was
U.S. Chart  #1 U.K. Chart  #51
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. Nick of Time [#92]
  2. Thing Called Love
  3. Love Letter
  4. Cry On My Shoulder
  5. Real Man
  6. Nobody’s Girl
  7. Have A Heart [#49]
  8. Too Soon to Tell
  9. I Will Not Be Denied
  10. I Ain’t Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again
  11. The Road’s My Middle Name

After a couple of false starts (including some work with Prince!) she hooked up with producer Don Was and signed Capitol. She wrote two new songs and picked nine great covers, assembling the album that made her an unexpected superstar nearly two decades after her career began.

The album starts off strong with the first Raitt original, the title track. It’s a wonderful reflection on life, penned as she turned 40 and looked at the lives of her friends and family. Pensive but upbeat, it finds her in great voice and shows of her musical sensibility nicely. It also sets the stage for her journey through a variety of musical styles and reflections on life and love over the next ten tracks.

Thing Called Love is a wonderful John Hiatt song that fits Raitt’s roots rock style perfectly. It’s a lusty song of yearning with a nice bluesy groove. Making her desire clear, she makes a joyous treat out of Hiatt’s nobody’s-perfect-but-you-might-be-perfect-for-me tune. Raitt picked two songs by Bonnie Hayes for the disc, and Love Letters follows Thing Called Love perfectly. It’s a polite stalking song, with the singer making her desire for the lyrics’ object clear. It shows off more of Raitt’s fun side and great guitar work.

Cry On My Shoulder is a Michael Ruff song that changes the pace a bit. It’s a slow ballad, offering support and love. It fits the theme of hope that runs through the disc perfectly and is one of Raitt’s finer vocal performances. She turns back to the physical side of things with Jerry Williams’ Real Man. A great rootsy song, Raitt nails it with just the right balance of ache and lust in her delivery. Up next is Nobody’s Girl, a song of fragile independence by Larry John McNally. Sung in the third person, it could still apply to Raitt herself. Her sensitive delivery is a nice balance of brittle and bold.

Bonnie Hayes contributes the next track, the wonderful Have A Heart. The first single off the album, it announced that Bonnie Raitt was back with a vengeance. It’s a great why-do-you-treat-me-so-bad song, with the singer bruised but not broken. It’s one of her finest songs ever (no mean feat) and the highlight of a very strong album. Too Soon to Tell is a great follow-up, with the singer hoping she can wish the best for a former lover. It’s a nice ballad with perfect vocal support from Was’ Was (Not Was) bandmates.

The final trio are strong numbers that serve as Raitt’s declaration of independence. I Will Not Be Denied, another Jerry Williams song, is a great blues rocker, with the singer making her self-sufficiency abundantly clear. The addition of the Heart Attack Horns rounds out the song perfectly. I Ain’t Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again is a quiet song, but powerful in its determination. With just a clear, aching vocal from Raitt and wonderful piano work by Herbie Hancock, it is a wonderful testament to her fresh startEnding as she started, with a song of her own, Raitt wraps things up with a wonderful rootsy number, The Road’s My Middle Name. It’s a classic singer-on-the-road song, but filled with joy and strength rather than sorrow or regret. Anchored by a great harmonica line, the song is a perfect closer for a woman who is starting fresh and celebrating two decades of singing and performing. Her joy and love are clear in every note.

FURTHER LISTENING: Raitt has an impressive catalog. Two of her Warners albums — Give It Up and Green Light — are perfect examples of her first decade of work. After Nick of Time sold five million copies, went to #1, and won three Grammy awards, Warner asked Raitt to pick her favorites from her time with the label. The resulting Bonnie Raitt Collection is a nice overview of her time before Capitol. All of 90s albums are solid, especially Luck of the Draw. Capitol’s Best of Bonnie Raitt from 2003 is a nice summary.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

2 Responses to Album of the Week, June 16: Nick of Time by Bonnie Raitt

  1. Thanks Robert, Nick of Time is one of my favourites of Bonnie’s too. She has been remarkably consistent, it is hard to think of a bad album she has made.

  2. dorkyzard says:

    I love her!!! I think she has an amazing voice. I wrote about Bonnie Raitt on my blog if you would like to check it out that would be great!

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