Luck Of The Draw
Capitol Records, 1991
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/08/1997
Damn VH-1. Damn VH-1 to hell. The station became a beacon for adult contemporary music and as a result, Bonnie Raitt became an almost ideal spokeswoman for the station. Raitt gave one of the biggest comebacks in rock music in the early '90s, sweeping the Grammys with her album Nick Of Time. It was one of the true bright spots for the Grammys - an artist who deserves the award actually getting it.
Unfortunately, for Raitt, that status gave way to increased record sales. As a result, she became mismarketed for the purpose of selling even more albums. Which brings us to her 1991 follow-up album, Luck Of The Draw. To the casual listener, it's a safe ride that has the word "adult" written all over it.
New listeners to Bonnie Raitt would be stunned to hear she was kicking it way back in the early 70s. Those blues tinged songs on Luck Of The Draw are actually coming from an artist that fully embodied the blues back in her daring whiskey downing and coke snorting days. As Raitt cleaned up herself, she had to clean up the sound of her early albums. Indeed, after all the overdue acclaim Raitt received for Nick Of Time, you almost feel that she had to make another album that would have a "Grammy" feel to it. An album that had Grammy award written all over it.
The conflict between the old and new Raitt is what makes Luck Of The Draw such an interesting listen. The first two songs, "Something To Talk About" and "Good Man, Good Woman," are the more radio friendly Raitt talking. Around this time, she was falling in love with Michael O'Keefe. Her joy gives both of these songs a shine, even though she didn't write either song. Add producer Don Was to put some gloss on the songs and you've got a hit already.
Even the more somber, "I Can't Make You Love Me," has immense commercial appeal. "You can't make you heart feel something it won't" basically shows the depth of this pensive ballad, which is about as deep as a kiddie pool. Though Raitt's voice carries the song to a level few other female artists could reach, it seems the commercial side of Raitt would be here to stay, fully buring the old, reckless blues junkie behind...but wait.
Luck Of The Draw has one of the best "middle of an album" songs in my collection. Raitt pulls out her deadly slide guitar skills on "Tangled And Dark". Talking like a seasoned vetern, Raitt sings, "No use in running/it's always the same/you can count on the panic/it's the faces that change,"..bam. Add a decent horn section and Luck Of The Draw begins to steer into the blues. Her wearied, yet strong outlook is all over "Come To Me," a song about the fear of diving into a relationship that may sweep you off your feet or leave you in the gutter picking up the pieces. It's no coincidence that her strongest songs on Luck Of The Draw are the ones she wrote herself.
The bar stomping beat of "No Business" reaffirms my belief that Raitt is one of the most soulful singers out there today. Raitt could do a satisfactory guitar duo with Stevie Ray Vaughan and sing with John Lee Hooker and not look lightweight. Think of that before giving Meredith Brooks or even Jewel the pop queen title crown.
Ballads mostly dominate the second half of Luck Of The Draw. While "One Part Be My Lover" and "All At Once" are revealing accounts of isolation, producer Don Was sinks "One Part" from overproduction. The title track finds Raitt once again trying to create a Grammy winning sound, rather than creating something truely her own.
Her blues side ultimately wins out in Luck Of The Draw with "Papa Come Quick" and "Slow Ride". The funky bass line of "Slow Ride" and the shuffling beat of "Papa" are relitively untouched by Was. The album was dedicated to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and after listening to it again, it's an album that I think would have received Stevie Ray's approval.
For an artist who has endured so many years of obscurity, its forgiveable that Luck Of The Draw tosses out a couple of bones for the masses to chew on. While Luck Of The Draw sold millions, Raitt's true voice was still very much on the album, it just was a bit harder to look for. For a true blues fan though, the best compliment to Bonnie Raitt would be to go down to the record store and pick up one of her earlier works. For the timid, her greatest hits will do just fine.