Episode 12: Takin' My Time (Bonnie Raitt, 1973)
It's true, Bonnie Raitt has written and recorded her own songs, but her strength lies more in the her work as an interpreter and a guitarist. On her third solo record, Takin’ My Time, released in 1973, we are treated to a diverse collection of covers, each included, she says, because they say exactly what she feels.
“Let Me In,” the roisterous third track on the album, and a hit for the Sensations in 1962, begins with sounds of the recording studio, and then rips into its oom-pa two-beat with the residual sounds of laughter and merriment hanging on through the first verse. The sturdy tuba work from bassist Freebo, the contrapuntal horn improvisations, and the overdubbed “wee-oo” backing vocals help to sustain that party-you-want-to-be-a-part-of feel to the end.
“Wah She Go Do,” composed and performed originally by Calypso Rose on her album Splish Splash, is a strong, pro-woman, even feminist Calypso statement that stands in sharp contrast to the male-dominated Calypso scene of her time, in which songs so often objectified, degraded, and denigrated women in their lyrics. In this song, the female narrator sings about wives and their husbands who mistreat them, prescribing the having of an “outside man,” or, hell, two, as a way of getting respect. The song was surely presented to Raitt by Van Dyke Parks, who, in addition to adapting the arrangement, playing piano, and singing backup on her version, is also credited for “inspiration” on the track.
The injunction to women to stand up for themselves found in “Wa She Go Do” is also reflected, if less prescriptively, in the album’s opening track, a cover of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ 1965 hit, “You’ve Been in Love Too Long.” The final verse tells us, “When his wrong looks right, though he always treats you bad / You find little excuses for all the sadness and abuses.”
It’s unfortunate that there’s not more guitar playing from Raitt on the record, but she does show off her solid bottleneck technique on the medley of two tunes by her mentor, Mississippi Fred McDowell, “Write me a Few of Your Lines” and “Kokomo Blues,” which took the place on the record of the duet with McDowell that never came to be.
The album ends gloomily but stunningly with “Guilty,” a song by Randy Newman that Raitt had heard in producer Michael Cuscuna’s apartment before Newman had officially recorded it. It is, as many Newman tunes can be, brutal, yet laid over an almost “You know I just can't stand myself / It takes a whole lot of medicine / For me to pretend to be somebody else.”
As Raitt would say, introducing this song at a show performed in New York City shortly after the Takin' My Time sessions, “If you don’t think this is the blues, I don’t know why you’re here.”
I’m Josh Rutner, and that’s your album of the week.