Bonnie Raitt & Lowell George (with John Hammond) – Ultrasonic Studios 1972

Obscure radio broadcast sheds further light on a bygone age

Released on the Iconography label, this CD taken from a live FM broadcast is apparently an official document of sessions organised by Long Island radio station WLIR-FM on 17th October, 1972. With no actual audience in attendance, Bonnie Raitt, Lowell George and John Hammond run through a series of relatively low-key, largely acoustic renditions of some of their favourite songs. That it took place at Hempstead, New York, is appropriate considering the amount of leaf which must have permeated through the radio station’s studios.

Raitt begins the set with a series of covers that includes a tender version of Jackson Browne’s “Under A Falling Sky,” a stoney “Can’t Find My Way Home” (Steve Winwood), along with the folk-blues of “Going To Louisiana,” together with Lowell on slide guitar. In fact, Lowell’s main purpose during these sessions it seems was to act as Raitt’s support, and he does a damn fine job of it too.

“Big Road Blues,” and “You Got To Know How” are further showcases for Bonnie’s emotive vocal talents, like Janis Joplin, minus the histrionics. At one point, presenter Ken Cole, obviously impressed with Lowell’s playing, asks the Little Feat singer/guitarist to play “Willin’,” to which George responds instead with a stirring version of “A Apolitical Blues” (with Hammond on harmonica).

But it isn’t all just Raitt and Lowell, as John Hammond puts in some spirited vocals and harmonica of his own, most notably on blues numbers “Riding In The Moonlight,” and the near-ancient, Mississippi Delta sounding “As The Years Go By.”

Lowell George proves himself a slide master on Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and Elmore James’ “The Sky Is Crying,” both of which could easily be Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac circa 1968 (no offence to the originals).

Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do” and “It’s Too Late” round out the broadcast in typical blues manner, where it’s clear that everyone was ready to move on and party somewhere else.

The combination of Raitt’s sexy, soulful singing and Lowell’s immaculate guitar playing was obviously a winning formula. And had they chosen to collaborate, in earnest, one can only wonder at what the two might have created.

Ultrasonic Studios 1972 is a snapshot into an era when music was far more organic than it is now, and all about picking, rather than clicking. As any music fan or bootlegger will tell you, one wonders at what else awaits to be liberated from the vaults of American FM radio.


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