Thursday, April 26, 2012

Music picks

Soile Isokoski/Richard Strauss (San Francisco Sentinel)
The Helsinki Philharmonic gave the premiere performance of the Jean Sibelius' First Symphony on today's date in 1899, with the composer himself conducting. He went on to write five more symphonies, now considered among the finest of the early 20th century. In his private diary, German composer Richard Strauss wrote this appraisal: "Sibelius is the only Scandinavian composer who has real depth . . . his music has a freshness that presupposes a virtually inexhaustible fund of melodic invention." That was a trait he shared with Strauss, and it can be heard in its full glory in the CD Songs by Sibelius, Strauss and Berg by Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski. A recital is such an ephemeral experience; thankfully this exceptional one was preserved for posterity.
Turning to a diva of a different stripe, all hail Bonnie Raitt and her new CD Slipstream!! Is there any singer/guitarist alive who can match her moxie? NPR's Ken Tucker rightly sang her praises when choosing the CD for its "First Listen" feature:
The warmth and vigor of Bonnie Raitt's voice throughout her new album Slipstream, even when she's covering an oldie such as Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line," is vital and fresh — urgent, even. Raitt has always possessed a gift for taking a familiar phrase and rendering it in a manner that compels a listener to think anew about what the words really mean.
Raitt has always mixed folk with blues, rock and the sort of funk that she'd probably link to Lowell George and Little Feat, and that I'd say is as respectful of beat and groove as any of the R&B artists she admires. You can hear it in her slide-guitar playing throughout Slipstream, and particularly the way she sets up the rhythm with her band and then slides her voice in like a letter going into an envelope addressed to you.
I know that if you're going to praise a Bonnie Raitt album, you're supposed to work in some comparison to her greatest commercial success, 1989's Grammy-winning Nick of Time. But my praise is more precise: This is Raitt's best album since 1975's underrated Home Plate. I'm not just pulling that out for obscurity's sake, either: Slipstream captures the kind of barnstorming fervor that can turn in the space of a song into a slow boil, the roiling storm of emotions contained within her cover of Bob Dylan's "Million Miles."
I mentioned Raitt's vocals at the start of this review, and I'm going to end there, too. It's not that I'm ageist enough to think that someone in her 60s can sing as fluidly as Raitt does here — heck, her blues heroes were doing it a few decades beyond that. But it is rare for a performer who has maintained a 40-year career to sound so unfazed, so careful to avoid artistic short-cuts, so lacking in cynicism. She has the guile and shrewdness of a long-time pro, but it's the purity of this beautiful mongrel music that gives it its great life.

"She slides her voice in like a letter going into an envelope addressed to you."

7 comments:

  1. What a glowing review of Slipstream, though I'm sure this marks the first time Bonnie's tunes have been described as "beautiful mongrel music!" Her playing here is indeed as refined as ever...

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    1. It's hard to be a music writer (heh heh)

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  2. I remember being a young girl and watching Bonnie Raitt perform at one of the music award shows after Nick of Time came out and being absolutely fascinated by her bottleneck-style guitar playing skillzzz!!! Gotta check out her new gem soon!!!!!!!!!

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    1. She's so gifted ... I also love her because she's so true to herself; no false notes.

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    2. Amen to that! Being true to yourself, so often forgotten in the music business.

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  3. I am a HUGE Bonnie fan, ever since I was about 8 or 9. Very nice review! Although I will have to disagree with you on comparing past albums. Home Plate was great (there is yet to be a Bonnie Raitt album I dislike), but I will have to say that Slipstream for me is the best album since Luck of the Draw and Longing in Their Hearts (early 90s recordings). Funny enough, I didn't even hear Nick of Time until around the time I started college. I (as always) am in awe of Raitt's timeless talent, and her ability to still deliver amazing, quality music in her 60s. "Used to Rule the World" might be my favorite song on Slipstream. What a great reintroduction of Raitt's funky, soulful vocals and flawless guitar playing! As a singer and guitar player myself, Raitt has always been a huge inspiration to me (and so many more musicians, especially women!). Thank you for this review. I am hoping that Slipstream will rekindle the love of hard core fans like me but also introduce new fans of all generations! As a side note, if you are really into Bonnie, check out this gem that I found on Amazon, a great live performance from the 70s: http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Broadcast-Bonnie-Raitt/dp/B004H53FWO/ref=sr_1_17?ie=UTF8&qid=1335471490&sr=8-17

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  4. HAIL TO WOMEN IN THEIR 60'S! BONNIE RAIT IS NO EXCEPTION, ALWAYS GREAT AND STILL GOING STRONG!

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