Bonnie Raitt, ‘Just Like That … ‘: Album Review
Bonnie Raitt wasn't untouched by the pandemic, losing friends and mentors to lonesome deaths. Her 21st album isn't either. COVID shadows most things in Just Like That ... , even the love songs. At times, it's a hunter, stalking prey. At other times, it simply deepens our understanding of how temporary this life always was. "I don't think we'll get back how we use to," Raitt sings on "Livin' for the Ones," one of this self-produced LP's four originals. "No use in tryin' to measure the loss."
Among those losses was John Prine, whom she deeply mourned before beginning work on this first LP since 2016's Dig in Deep. Raitt also covers "Love So Strong" by Toots and the Maytals, whose frontman Toots Hibbert likewise died after suffering COVID-like symptoms.
Just Like That ... isn't a themed record, though. Elsewhere, Raitt touches on more typical topics like love gone wrong ("Made Up Mind," the lead single with Brothers Landreth), love refound ("Something's Got a Hold of My Heart") and love long gone ("Blame It on Me"). The title track, another stirring Raitt original, follows a man to the doorstep of a grieving mother who blames herself for her son's death – then finds solace when she discovers the stranger received his heart in transplant surgery.
A locked-down world nevertheless had stopped spinning as these sessions got underway. You can't help but hear the silence surrounding Raitt as she admits during "Blame It on Me" that time has "poured like sand through your hands and mine." Whether she meant to or not, a traumatic period is given purpose and meaning through discussions of our inevitable frustrations ("Waitin' For You to Blow") and ungiven farewells ("When We Say Goodnight").
Yet this record never falls completely into darkness, and that's a tribute to Raitt's skills both as a songwriter and underrated interpreter. These are stories of acceptance, stories of resilience – presented in a far more direct way than sleek Don Was-produced projects like 1989's Nick of Time and 1991's Luck of the Draw.
Instead, Just Like That ... unfolds as a powerful testament not just to those who have gone, but also to the steadfast who remain. "I'm livin' for the ones who didn't make it, cut down through no fault of their own," Raitt adds on the Stones-y "Livin' for the Ones." "If you ever start to bitch and moan, just remember the ones who won't ever feel the sun on their faces again."
The LP-closing "Down the Hall," a fingerpicked Prine-esque character study, puts it all into perspective.
Raitt was actually inspired by a much-earlier news story about a convicted murderer who sought salvation late in life by becoming a jailhouse hospice worker. Yet his reasoning, through her words, brings us right back to the most indelible of COVID-ward images: "The thought of those guys goin' out alone," Raitt sings. "It hit me somewhere deep."
Just Like That ... will, too.