am 31. Dezember 2003
I didn't get to see Bonnie Raitt live until she was a big enough star to fill large concert halls, but whenever I'm trying to imagine what it must have been like to attend one of her appearances in the Cambridge, MA blues clubs where she started out way back when in the early 1970s, this is one of the albums I listen to. "Give It Up," released 1972, was Bonnie Raitt's second album, and it brims with the liveliness of the 22 year-old singer who only recently had nicked a college degree in African studies for a full-fledged career as a musician. Yet, all those live appearances before she landed her record deal had already given her an incredible amount of self-confidence: This was not an insecure, directionless young thing who had barely outgrown her teenage years; nor, for that matter, a high-powered starlet whose career was taking off with rocket speed only to fizzle soon thereafter, as quickly as it had begun. No: this was a young woman who knew exactly where she wanted to go, both musically and lyrically; and all the trademark characteristics of the artist her fans would grow to admire over the course of the following 30 years were already in place, most notably her breathtaking skills as a guitar player, her vocal skills, running the gamut from sassy to sad, and that feeling for the blues which, even at the very beginning of her career, had already gained her the respect of the entire Delta blues elite from John Lee Hooker to Sippie Wallace.
"Give It Up" is a low-key recording with an almost improvised "live in the studio" feeling, and the one impression that stands out more than any other while listening to it is the obvious fun which all participants must have had during its production. Bonnie Raitt was joined for the occasion by multi-talent Freebo, a fixture on all of her early albums as well as at her live appearances, keyboardist Mark Jordan and saxophone player John Payne, both renowned for their collaborations with Van Morrison (on his "Tupelo Honey" and "Astral Weeks" albums, respectively), guitarists T.J. Tindall and John Hall (the latter known for his work with Taj Mahal and Janis Joplin), songwriter Eric Kaz, whose "Love Has No Pride" provides a melancholy conclusion to the album, and a largely Woodstock-based group of equally talented musicians. The photos reproduced on thirteen of the twenty pages of the booklet which accompanies the album amply illustrate the sheer joy involved in the project, and the easygoing companionship shared by its participants.
The album opens with one of Bonnie Raitt's biggest hits to date, the feisty "Give It Up or Let Me Go," written by Raitt herself and featuring Freebo on tuba and John Payne on soprano sax - one of Raitt's many "attitude" songs and, as she wrote almost 20 years later in the liner notes of her "Bonnie Raitt Collection," "you can bet it was just as much fun to be there as it sounds." Two more of Raitt's own creations are contained on the album, in the second track, the contemplative "Nothing Seems to Matter," and the ninth song, the upbeat "You Told Me, Baby." Further standouts are Raitt's adaptation of Chris Smither's "Love Me Like a Man," with lyrics that make it clear that equality in a partnership is ultimately a matter of self-respect and "one of the best modern blues songs ever written," as Bonnie Raitt commented in the liner notes of her "Collection;" "Under the Falling Sky," featuring Paul Butterfield on harp, Raitt's first true rock song and also the first of several Jackson Browne-penned pieces she would record over the course of her career; "You Got to Know How," featuring John Payne on clarinet and one of Bonnie Raitt's many tributes to her mentor Sippie Wallace; and the closing tune, Eric Kaz's "Love Has No Pride," another one of Raitt's earliest signature songs and intensely personal, because at the time of that song's recording she herself had just been abandoned by a lover and, as she later recalled, more or less then "spent a year of gigs trying to sing him back."
"Give It Up" is one of those sophomore efforts which are actually superior to the respective singer's first release; and as is so often the case in those instances, it is a clear indication that this would turn out to be an artist to reckon with for a long time to come. Yet, even though this proved to be the first high water mark in Bonnie Raitt's career, not everybody would probably have dared to prophesize all those years ago that the perky redhead from Southern California who had recorded this album would rise to be one of rock and blues music's longest shining stars. But just in case you forget where it all began for the multiple Grammy Award winner of so many years later, go back and listen to this album and to Bonnie Raitt's self-titled debut, and let their youthful, upbeat charm work on you. And man, don't you ever dare mess around behind my back, 'cause ... "if you want me to love you, you've got to give it up or let me go"!
Bonnie's first love is the blues but her music incorporates other influences including pop, folk and R+B. With three self-penned songs (Give it up, Nothing seems to matter, You told me baby) and seven other songs from diverse sources, this is one of Bonnie's finest albums, showing how she has pulled those different musical styles together.
The covers include the R+B classics I know (Barbara George) and If you gotta make a fool of somebody (originally recorded by James Ray, it became a major UK hit for Freddie and the dreamers, though I suspect that it was James Ray's version that inspired Bonnie's outstanding cover). Other great covers include Love has no pride (an Eric Kaz song that I first discovered on Linda Ronstadt's album, Don't cry now) and Under the falling sky (Jackson Browne).
This album, along with Bonnie's other early albums, did not receive the attention it deserved at the time, but as her reputation has grown, more people are learning just how good Bonnie's music really is - all of it, but especially those early albums.