Feeling funky, she's ready to rock

April 08, 2002|By Steve Morse | Steve Morse,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Bonnie Raitt may be 52 years old, but she's going on 22.

"If somebody had told me that my 50s were going to be this much of a blastoff, I wouldn't have believed it. I'm having the time of my life," says Raitt, whose new album, Silver Lining, comes out tomorrow and features her funkiest music in years.

"That's good, because I'm in a funky mood," says the singer from her home in Los Angeles. "Why am I so happy? Maybe it's because I got so much satisfaction and validation the last few years. ... I don't have to run for rock star anymore. I'm already in!"

Raitt was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two years ago and won nine Grammy awards during her triumphant comeback in the '90s.

Raitt opted to take a break from recording her own albums in recent years, but she has hardly been sitting on the sidelines. She was a guest on 15 albums (including discs by Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, Cesaria Evora and Les McCann), went on monthlong musical explorations to Africa and Ireland and took two trips to Cuba.

"I was just a gypsy soaking up as much musical influence and passion as I could," she says. "And I didn't have to go on tour. There's more to life than promoting myself and thinking of my next project. It's a period in my life when I feel set loose."

Not that Raitt has completely abandoned the road (her tour to support Silver Lining will stop in Washington later this month). It's just that she doesn't take every appearance so seriously anymore. She knows she's bringing the goods.

"I don't care as much about what people think of me," Raitt says. "I feel that I'm at the top of my game, and I don't have to second-guess myself or belabor how I'm going to come across. I don't feel arrogant, but I feel cocky and confident the way you do when you're 21, though I'm wisened by experience.

"I know who I am, and I'm just celebrating having made it this far. I'm really ready for anything."

Raitt is also single again, having divorced husband (and actor) Michael O'Keefe after an eight-year marriage that ended in 1998. She obviously isn't looking back.

"If I had known that being single was this much fun, I would have been single before," she says. "You worry about what it's going to feel like when you're not attached, then when you get off of that dependency or whatever that expectation is, you have great companionship and infinite possibilities. You're comfortable with yourself, and you're not driven by anything other than that moment."

Clearly, all of this living and traveling has been distilled into the new album. She gets funky on tunes such as "Gnawin' on It" (which she co-wrote with slide guitarist Roy Rogers), "Time of Our Lives" and the Sly Stone-like "Monkey Business" (penned by her New Orleans keyboardist Jon Cleary). She also displays a joyous African influence in "Hear Me Lord" (authored by Zimbabwe's Oliver Mtukudzi) and adds the karmic blues of "Back Around" (co-written with Habib Koite), with the lines "You're gonna reap just what you sow."

The production quality is superb (Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake co-produced with her), and her band gets to cut loose, just as she does.

The surprise might be the laid-back, David Gray-written title track, a spiritual coming-of-age ballad with the encouraging verse, "The only things worth living for - innocence and magic."

"I'm always looking for great, under-the-radar singer-songwriters, whether it's Joel Zoss or Chris Smither or, at one time, John Prine," she says. "Great songwriters are hard to find."

Consistent with her new, ready-for-anything attitude, Raitt also commissioned a sexy photo of herself on the CD cover and on several pages of the lyric sleeve.

"I picked those pictures this time on purpose," she says. "I've never used pictures that are flirty or sexy, but this time, I thought, you know what? This is where I'm at in my life now. These expressions and this body language are really natural expressions of who I am right now. So why not?

"God knows that for my 15 other album covers, I've been demure enough. I don't think anybody is going to accuse me of exploiting myself."

Bonnie Raitt

When: 7 p.m. Sunday, April 21

Where: Constitution Hall, 18th and D streets N.W., Washington

Call: 410-481-7328 or 202-432-7328 (or order tickets online at www.ticketmaster.com)

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