Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Heaven Week: Angel From Montgomery

Bonnie Raitt: Angel From Montgomery


Bonnie Raitt w/ John Prine: Angel From Montgomery


Call it overplayed. Call it sappy seventies lite on the radio dial. But back before Bonnie Raitt's voice had been ravaged by alcohol, she was a Boston-based bluesfolk singer and guitarist who looked like she could soar to the Heavens herself, and with a voice to match.

Raitt's first three albums are gorgeous and flawed. Her fourth, 1974 release Streetlights, was a marked shift towards mainstream pop consistency. You could already hear a rasp and rattle in there, if you listened closely, but the production served her changing tone well. By the time she released her live duet with original songwriter John Prine, her voice was as broken as his, in its own way. And being a fan of Bonnie Raitt meant something else entirely.

The idea of angel as saving grace has always appealed to me -- and this is, ultimately, a song of longing framed around the titular savior, though Prine's narrator is so desperate, she would just as easily accept an old rodeo poster as evidence of meaning. But I think this song gets so much more poignant when you consider the ravages of time and pop music on Bonnie Raitt's voice. Listening to her "original" take on this song now gives me chills, while more recent live versions -- including this one with Prine, which was first released, oddly enough, on a Steve Goodman tribute album -- while powerful in their own right, seem nostalgic by comparison.

Just for fun, here's Prine's solo acoustic take, too. I love the way his torn, yearning voice leans into the angelic chime and rise of the mandolin. Here's a guy whose voice got graveled up as he aged, too. In his case, however, there wasn't as far to fall.

John Prine: Angel From Montgomery


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