She may have been a critics darling right out of the gate, but it took ten albums and almost 20 years before Bonnie Raitt made her commercial breakthrough. Since then, her whisky-soaked vocals and irresistible cocktail of blues, rock, and R&B have sold millions of albums, picked up numerous awards, and cemented her status as one of the greatest singers of all time. Here, we take a look back at the highs and lows of her career as we rank all the Bonnie Raitt albums from worst to best.
An artist’s failure to produce a single bad album over the course of their career wouldn’t usually be seen as a fault, but it does make the job of ranking them difficult. But ultimately, one of those albums has to draw the short straw, and in this case, we’ve gone for Fundamental, an album that in anyone else’s catalog would be seen as a triumph, but in Raitt’s emerges as the weakest link. In fairness, Raitt isn’t the one at fault, delivering as vital a performance as ever. The problem lies with Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake, two distinguished producers with a style that simply doesn’t fit with Raitt’s. Although the album is replete with good songs, the murky production and gauzy effects bury them.
16. Nine Lives
The day after Raitt finished mastering Tongue & Groove, Warner dropped her. She was told she could take the tapes and release the album elsewhere, but their asking price of $500,000 made it impossible. So Tongue & Groove got shelved, apparently forgotten until Warner suddenly announced two years down the line that they intended to release it. Raitt ended up recutting half of it and the finished article, now retitled Nine Lives, finally hit the shelves in 1986. It didn’t sell, the critical reception was mixed and it did nothing to salvage Ritt’s already floundering career. But despite the negativity surrounding the release and despite the uneven results, it still has enough nuggets to make it worth an outing.
15. Sweet Forgiveness
Of all Raitt’s albums, Sweet Forgiveness is perhaps the most contentious. Some people love Paul Rothchild’s raw, intimate production, which instead of aiming for the perfect note seeks to capture Bonnie and her band at their roughest and most intense. Others, like All Music’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine, have taken aim at the thin material and lackluster song choices. Ultimately, both have a point, but even if some of the songs aren’t quite as effective as Raitt’s usual picks, gems like Earl Randall’s About to Make Me Leave Home and Karla Bonoff’s Home make it a worthwhile listen.
14. Home Plate
Up next is Raitt’s fifth studio album, Home Plate. Whereas its predecessor, the often overlooked Streetlights, sometimes sounded uncertain of whether it was aiming for the mainstream or not, Home Plate makes no secret of the fact it has the top 40 squarely in its sights. While that might make fans of the earthy pleasures of Raitt’s early material balk, it shouldn’t – overlook Paul A. Rothchild’s slick production, and you’ll find Raitt as riveting as ever, cutting through the gloss to deliver an irresistible performance. Released in 1975, the album made it to number 43 on the Billboard 200.
By 1974, Warner Bros were pushing Raitt for a hit, something they felt would be best achieved by hiring a producer with a track record of chart success. Raitt settled on Jerry Ragovoy, a producer who’d previously worked alongside Dionne Warwick and Janis Joplin. Ragovoy wanted Raitt to ditch the eclectic, blues-infused style of her earlier recordings and adopt a slicker, more mainstream approach. Although initially relucent, Raitt eventually consented. The result failed to generate the hit Warner waned, charting at number 80 in the charts. It also went down like a lead balloon with the critics, becoming her first album not to be greeted with positive reviews. But while it might not be in the same league as her earlier records, there’s still a lot to like about its warm, easy charms, particularly on the standout covers of John Prine’s Angel from Montgomery, Joni Mitchell’s That Song About the Midway, and Allen Toussaint’s What Is Success.
12. Silver Lining
In 2002, Raitt dropped her fourteenth studio alum, Silver Lining. Described by Q Magazine as “assured and dignified,” it serves as a stunning showcase for Raitt’s effervescent vocals and the exceptional work of her band. Steve Cropper’s licks on the Time of Our Lives deserve a round of applause in their own right, while slide legend Roy Rogers puts in a jaw-dropping performance on Gnawin’ on It. Complex, finely tuned, and rich in emotion, it’s a must-listen.
11. Souls Alike
Souls Alike, Raitt’s fifteenth studio album, is the first in her catalog to feature her as producer. An edgy, innovative album awash with guitars, it’s a delight, with Raitt putting her vocals to excellent use as she flits effortlessly from the slinky, grimy pleasures of God Was in the Water to the seductive, shimmering charms of The Bed I Made. Sharp, adventurous, and quite unlike anything else she’s released before, this is an album that leaves no doubt in the listener’s mind why Raitt has always been such a darling of the critics.
10. The Glow
Although Raitt has never been known to give a bad performance, some of her albums from the mid-1970s came perilously close to drowning her identity. The problem lies mainly with Paul Rothchild’s overblown production, which seemed more intent on pandering to the mainstream than to Raitt’s skillset. For 1979’s The Glow, Raitt ditched Rothchild for Peter Asher, resulting in an album that, while still polished, still allowed Raitt’s toughness to shine through. There’s a couple of missteps (her cover of Jackson Browne’s Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate lack the emotional depth of the original, while The Boy Can’t Help It sounds awkward) but highlights like Bye Bye Baby, Your Good Thing (Is About to End), and Robert Palmer’s You’re Gonna Get What’s Coming saves the day.
In 2012, Raitt scored her highest-charting album in 18 years with Slipstream, which hit number one on both the Rock Albums and Blues Albums charts and debuted at number 6 on the Billboard 200. Described by Entertainment Weekly as Raitt’s best album since 1975’s Home Plate, the album’s slinky blend of rock, blues, folk, and funk picked up rave reviews from the critics, not to mention a Grammy Award for Best Americana Album.
8. Dig in Deep
As americansongwriter.com says, Dig in Deep, Raitt’s first album since 2012’s Grammy-winning Slipstream and her last album to date, is a near-perfect collection of songs that showcase the formidable talents she’s honed over her dependable 45-year career. A distinguished, accomplished record with a relaxed, taut performance from Raitt and her band, it gives us an artist still very much at the top of her game. Released in February 2016, it hit number 11 on the Billboard 200 and number 1 on the Billboard Blues, Folk, and Americana charts.
7. Bonnie Raitt
In 1971, Raitt dropped her self-titled debut album. It failed to chart, but even though its commercial fortunes were limited, rock critics lapped up its unusual song choices and taut performance. A 21-year-old singing songs by the classic feminist blues singer Sippie Wallace shouldn’t have worked, but Raitt’s deep understanding of music history and talent for interpretation made it sound the most natural thing in the world. Wonderfully textured and infused with an easy charm, it’s a remarkably accomplished debut.
6. Takin’ My Time
Takin’ My Time, Raitt’s third studio outing, didn’t bring her any closer to chart gold, but its eclectic mix of styles, nuanced vocals, and enticing blend of soft, sweet ballads and uptempo R&B numbers established Raitt as a firm favorite among rock critics. Described by Rolling Stone as her most cohesive album till that point, it’s a dazzling effort, showcasing Raiit’s toughness and sense of fun at the same time as highlighting the dynamic interplay between her and her band.
5. Green Light
Raitt has always been a tough cookie, but on the hard-rocking Green Light, she delivers one of her gutsiest performances to date. The production hasn’t aged well, but strip that away and you’ll find an incredibly engaging collection of rootsy rockers that demand repeat listening. If the album’s fun to listen to, it’s because it was fun to make, with Raitt later explaining, “I knew I had to get away from the slick sound I had with the Peter Asher record. And I was disappointed by not being able to make a record that sounded the way I wanted it to sound. I wanted to get back to the roots and to the funkiness I had on earlier records, even though I’m not crazy about how they sound. They sound like I was having a lot more fun than I really was. Green Light is the first album I actually had fun doing.”
4. Longing In Their Hearts
After kicking off the ’90s with the sensational Luck of the Draw, Raitt dished up another helping of the good stuff on 1994’s Longing In Their Hearts. A strong collection of covers and originals built around a theme of devotion, it’s a gorgeously soulful record complemented by a wonderfully textured production from Raitt and co-producer Don Was. Sublime backing vocals from David Crosby and The Band’s Levon Helm are the icing on the cake.
3. Give It Up
After impressing the critics but failing to make the charts with her debut, Raitt returned in 1972 with her sophomore outing, Give It Up. This time around, she made the charts, scrapping into the Billboard Top LPs & Tapes chart at number 138. Critically it was an even bigger success than her debut, with Rolling Stone commenting, “the best thing about Bonnie Raitt is her singing, and the best thing about Give It Up is that she sings great from beginning to end; in doing so, she successfully handles a far greater range of styles and material than on her first album and has produced a more interesting and satisfying record in the process.” In 2012, the album made it to Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
2. Nick of Time
After years of enduring critical success but chart failure, Raitt finally made her commercial breakthrough with her tenth studio album, Nick of Time. Released in March 1989, the album hit the number one spot on the Billboard 200, picked up three Grammy Awards (including Album of the Year), sold five million records, and turned Raiit from a cult favorite into a superstar. Polished but still gritty, infused with personality, and blessed with one of the warmest, most inviting vocal performances of Raitt’s career, it’s a triumph.
1. Luck of the Draw
After hitting the number one spot with the multi-platinum selling Nick of Time, Raitt wasted no time in getting started on its follow-up. Although Nick of Time serves as its blueprint, Luck of the Draw is, if anything, an even bigger triumph than its predecessor, with stronger songs, exquisite performances, and a professional production that cleans up the surfaces without removing that essential grit that makes Raitt such a compelling performer. Released in June 1991, the album hit number 2 on the Billboard 200 and has since certified quadruple platinum.