After thirty-plus years and mounds of releases, what’s a classic rocker to do: Stay the course or attempt a makeover? On Silver Lining, Bonnie Raitt votes for the former. Her voice remains good and grainy, her slide guitar raw and steely; the back-porch shuffle ”No Gettin’ Over You” could be an outtake from her earliest Warner Bros. albums (all of which have — hint, hint — just been reissued in remastered editions). She’s become just like the old blues musicians she worshipped in her youth—mature but with spunk to spare, as when she bites off several double entendres in ”Gnawin’ on It.” In her hands, David Gray’s meditative title song takes on a weathered dignity. But the roadhouse rousers and midlife-meditation ballads feel like repeats of past performances, and stabs at world music resemble watered-down Paul Simon. Raitt can still shake some action, but Silver Lining makes you wish she’d shake it up a bit more.
Neil Young’s restless muse has now lead him to, of all things, lounge soul. Recorded with backup from organist Booker T. Jones and his fellow MGs, the offhand Are You Passionate? is an eccentric record even by Young standards. Whether doling out ersatz vintage Motown (”You’re My Girl,” ”Be With You”) or having a one-on-one with God in ”Two Old Friends,” he hasn’t been this off-the-wall in years.
As always, Young conveys moments of tender beauty (the wistful title song). And like Raitt, his vocal cords seem remarkably undamaged after years of use and abuse. But too many of the songs and swoony love lyrics float away in the breeze, and a still-rumbling Crazy Horse can’t completely compensate for the overly familiar Old West references in the anticorporate parable ”Goin’ Home.” Are You Passionate? scores points for daring yet falls short of its own passionately lofty goals. Both: B