“On this record, I wanted to stretch,” says Bonnie Raitt. “I always want to find songs that excite me, and what’s different this time is that I’ve tried some styles and topics I haven’t touched on before.” With Just Like That…, her first new album in more than six years, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Raitt continues to draw on the range of influences that have shaped her legendary career, while creating something that speaks to the circumstances and challenges of these unprecedented times.
The title comes from a line in one of her new original songs (“Just like that your life can change”), which seemed especially fitting “because there’s never been a time that made me look around and say, ‘Nobody saw this coming’—where all of a sudden, everything shifted.” As her own tour following 2016’s acclaimed Dig In Deep album was winding down, Raitt got a call from with her friend James Taylor inviting her to hit the road on a bill together. Their tour dates were extended multiple times (even taking them to Europe, concluding with a show alongside Paul Simon in London’s Hyde Park). They were planning to keep going when the world shut down in March 2020.
She did her best to continue playing online fundraisers around the election, social justice, and environmental issues during the pandemic, and when it looked like things were opening up in the summer of 2021, Raitt brought her band to Northern California to rehearse and, for the first time, to record closer to where she lives. “I’ve always wanted to make a record here, and with our engineer Ryan Freeland able to bring his recording gear anywhere, once vaccinations made traveling safe again, we were thrilled to get everyone back together,” says the ten-time Grammy winner. “I think the absolute joy and relief of reuniting to play live music is really palpable on this record.” Raitt had several songs that she had been considering recording for years, including “Made Up Mind” by the Bros. Landreth, whom she befriended when they both played the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 2014, and “Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart,” by NRBQ’s Al Anderson, which she had been carrying around for almost three decades (“Al had given up asking if I was going to cut it,” she says with a laugh). She had planned to do Toots and the Maytals’ “Love So Strong” as her third duet with dear friend Toots Hibbert, but ultimately made it a tribute to the reggae giant after he tragically passed away in 2020. She initially cut “Here Comes Love,” by her pals the California Honeydrops, as part of her Dig in Deep sessions in 2015 and was glad to finally have room to include it.
But the biggest surprises on Just Like That…are the four songs written by Raitt. “Living for the Ones,” co-written with her longtime guitarist George Marinelli, is a rocking dedication to the friends and family she has lost in recent years, while the sardonic “Waitin’ for You to Blow,” about the devil on recovery’s shoulder, is a funk/jazz hybrid inspired by Mose Allison, Les McCann and Eddie Harris, and ‘70s funk. “There’s something thrilling about creating something brand new out of feelings and styles that have always run so deep in me,” she says.
Two songs were inspired by real-life scenarios: “Down the Hall” began when Raitt read a New York Times story a few years ago about a prison hospice program, and the album’s title track was sparked by a local news segment showing two families deeply impacted on both sides of an organ donation.
“These stories moved me deeply,” she says. “And in the face of so much hatred and cruelty the last few years, these examples of redemption, and people acting out of love, were healing for me, and what I wanted to focus on and write about.
“I’ve always loved the early guitar songs of Dylan, Jackson Browne, Paul Brady, and especially John Prine,” she adds. “With songs like ‘Angel From Montgomery’ and ‘Donald and Lydia,’ John was able to just climb inside and sing these people’s lives. With his passing last year, his inspiration meant even more in writing these two songs.”
Bonnie Raitt has never felt more grateful that she can continue making music, contributing to causes, keeping her crew working, and connecting with her audience. “I’m really aware of how lucky I am and I feel like my responsibility is to get out there and say something fresh and new—for me and for the fans,” she says. “It’s really daunting not to repeat yourself, but I have to have something to say, or I wouldn’t put out a record.”