Bonnie Raitt on the record -- A look back at her discography

Bonnie Raitt’s best work sounds warm and alluring, but dares you to cross her. She’s the neighbor who’d gladly lend you a cup of sugar if you’ve got guts enough to cross the pack of growling dogs in her yard. Her five best albums — those graded A or better below-capture this duality. They’re the essential Bonnie Raitt, not The Bonnie Raitt Collection, a ”best of”compilation released last year, which unfortunately stops before her Nick of Time comeback and includes two passionless selections from Raitt’s lean years in the ’80s.

Bonnie Raitt (1971)
This record is startling in its immediacy and sincerity. Raitt’s voice is young and pure, with an angelic gruffness. On songs grounded in folk blues, she is joined by some of her influences, including the soulful Chicago harmonica player Junior Wells. A+

Give It Up (1972)
Raitt expands her range, opening with a rollicking hippie-Dixieland original and establishing herself as a ’70s folk rocker. Her ballads cut to the heart, but the New Orleans-style horns, fun at first, are finally cloying. B+

Takin’ My Time (1973)
Her rhythms are less bluesy this time; instead she gets downright funky. Accompanied by several members of Little Feat, Raitt sounds comfortable singing rhythmic rockers, slow songs, and a swinging New Orleans tune, ”Let Me In.” The lighthearted calypso ”Wah She Go Do” may be just a lark, but it’s definitely fun. B+

Streetlights (1974)
Raitt gets contemplative and doesn’t let up. Streetlights is produced with a heavier hand than her other albums, with strings that sometimes complement her voice but more often distract from it. B

Home Plate (1975)
The first of three albums intent on good times, this one has plenty of muscle and edge, and tenderness, too. The sentiment of Raitt’s early work is combined with a commercial punch. A

Sweet Forgiveness (1977)
Much like Home Plate — with one song, ”Two Lives,” that, 14 years after its release, captures a timeless, brokenhearted sadness. A

The Glow (1979)
The songs have even more muscular crunch this time, but also a little less feeling. Raitt mines soul music for inspiration, but the jazzy title cut lacks the emotion of her earlier ballads. B-

Green Light (1982)
These were the days of new wave, and Raitt sounds as if she’s trying to adapt. She rocks on a few songs but seems to be grappling with a formula. B-

Nine Lives (1986) The low point. Soulless pop songs that have nothing to do with Bonnie Raitt. D

Nick of Time (1989) After three years off, and on a new record label, Raitt returns more solid than ever, sweeping the Grammys. Despite the dense production, this album retains a sense of joy, fun, and most important, personality. Raitt sounds like a neighbor again, and this time there’s no doubting her toughness. A

Luck of the Draw (1991) Proves the comeback wasn’t a fluke. The ’60s-ish organ on the first single, ”Something to Talk About,” is fun; a duet with Texas honky-tonker Delbert McClinton has grit; and the toe-tapping ”Papa Come Quick” all but demands a laugh. Raitt has found herself again, and she sounds only too glad to let us know. A