Bonnie Raitt On Choosing Songs

It took 18 albums, but now blues-rock’s most ballsy woman has assumed full control of her recording process. As producer of her latest release, Souls Alike [Capitol], Bonnie Raitt took an emotionally raw and musically audacious approach that encouraged her band to “discover” the songs as they were tracking them.
Publish date:
Updated on

“I have such a breadth of songs that they never know what I’m up to,” she says. “I could throw anything from a Hungarian folk song to a Broadway tune at them. So they don’t have any preconceived notions, and I don’t really have any idea where the arrangements are going to go beyond what I’m playing on guitar or piano. I mean, I have in my mind how I think it’s going to go, but I try to say as little as possible when I sit with the band, because I want their interpretation to be spontaneous. I want them to bring the ‘beginner’s mind,’ as they say in Zen. I want them to show up and be fresh.”

Jettisoning preconceptions was key during the Souls sessions, as Raitt—always a brilliant judge of material—chose songs that are quite different from the radio hits of her Nick of Time era.

“Listen, most people didn’t wait 20 years to have their first hit, so I’ve always been used to being a fringe artist,” explains Raitt. “I just want to put my heart and soul into every record, and I pick songs the same way I find musicians—something speaks to me. It’s not an intellectual process why I like [John Prine’s] ‘Angel from Montgomery.’ A song either gets you or it doesn’t. That’s why I called the album Souls Alike. It’s so clear to me that I can’t get to these places musically or thematically without the perspective and the souls of the people I get the tunes from. The writers and I are very much connected, and I like being able to say, ‘Listen to this woman Maia Sharp. She is a musician’s musician who has written hit songs for other people, but I think she’s great on her own, and I want to turn you on to her music.’ A lot of my career has been turning people on to great songwriters.”