New Albums: Bonnie Raitt, Jesu/Sun Kil Moon and a tribute to Blind Willie Johnson; Ratings: Excellent , Good , Fair , Poor

20160228_inq_album28-a
Bonnie Raitt: "Dig in Deep"

Bonnie Raitt
Dig in Deep
(Redwing ***1/2)

Bonnie Raitt reintroduces herself like an old friend: The opening track, "Unintended Consequence of Love," is quintessential Bonnie - a mid-tempo, R&B-laced number that allows her longtime band to, well, dig in deep on the groove while she adds some of her emotive slide guitar.

Raitt and her crew rock it up even harder on Los Lobos' "Shakin' Shakin' Shakes" and her own "The Comin' Round Is Going Through." But the digging deep the album title refers to involves not just the approach to the music, but the emotional content of the songs themselves: The continuing rewards of the 66-year-old Raitt lie in hearing how she uses these familiar forms to cut to the bone. She does that on the up-tempo numbers but even more so on the ballads, from Bonnie Bishop's "Undone" to her own "The Ones We Couldn't Be."

Raitt produced Dig in Deep herself, except for another product of her 2010 collaboration with producer-writer Joe Henry (four tracks appeared on 2012's Slipstream). His "You've Changed My Mind" is a spare, evocative ballad that complements Raitt's own style while offering a fresh variation on it.

- Nick Cristiano

Jesu/Sun Kil Moon
Jesu/Sun Kil Moon
(Rough Trade/Caldo Verde ***)

Whether as solo singer-songwriter, a Sun Kil Moon man, or one of the Red House Painters, Mark Kozelek is a tough nut to crack. Though respected for his deep, quiet, melancholy vocals and dry sense of humor (think Nick Drake with a smirk), Kozelek won a rep as a nasty goof in 2014 by fighting in song and social media with Philadelphia's the War on Drugs. Though he's something of a loner, in this collaboration with Justin "Jesu" Broadrick, Kozelek's Sun Kil Moon speaks often and lovingly of devoted fans, friends, and those recently lost, such as Nick Cave's son (on "Exodus"), whose sudden death is lamented with the longing passion of a professional mourner.

Kozelek roams angrily yet tenderly among Broadrick's rough shoegazy guitars, looped electronic rhythms, and blowsy synthesizers. They get some background vocal aid from indie-rawk luminaries Will Oldham and Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock. When Kozelek isn't coughing out caustic tunes like "Last Night I Rocked the Room like Elvis and Had Them Laughing like Richard Pryor," he's sensually croon-reading stream-of-consciousness bits of his diary that speak of troubled romance, lost children, and his emotional fan base in a manner that's funny odd, not funny ha-ha.
- A.D. Amorosi

Various Artists
God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson
(Alligator ***1/2)

Blind Willie Johnson recorded only 30 songs from 1927 to 1930, but they are some of the most important in American blues. "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground," "John the Revelator," "Nobody's Fault But Mine," "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" - gospel songs all made canonical by Johnson's gravelly voice and searing slide guitar. God Don't Never Change is a fitting tribute to his greatness.

With Tom Waits and Lucinda Williams each singing two songs, and Rickie Lee Jones, Maria McKee, Cowboy Junkies, and Sinead O'Connor contributing, the roster looks like it might have come from a 1990 collection, although the presence of Luther Dickinson, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, and Jason Isbell (playing slide with the Blind Boys of Alabama) lowers the average age a bit. Almost all the artists chose arrangements inspired by Johnson's own: sparse but energetic, driven by slide guitar and a stomped or handclapped rhythm. For a tribute album, the aesthetic is surprisingly and rewardingly unified.

- Steve Klinge

Continue Reading