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Bonnie Raitt: Blues Sister

For her newest—and 20th!—album, the singer-songwriter digs in deep and bares her soul

Upfront: Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie Raitt digging deeper into blues and gospel on her 20th disc

Rocker Bonnie Raitt, 66, plans to spend much of the next two years knocking herself out onstage with the band that inspired the title of her latest album, Dig in Deep. "Whether it's a gospel song, a funk groove or a rocker," she brags of the foursome, "they dig in!"

The Dig in Deep tour begins March 10 and runs into November.

Raitt, too, has been digging in deep — to keep her music fresh. "This is my 20th record," she reflects. "I've covered a lot of grooves and topics that appeal to me. It's always daunting to come up with new ideas and new ways to play things."

The blues-rock queen has been concocting those new ways since Bonnie Raitt, her 1971 debut at the age of 21. Back then, Raitt interpreted the songs of female mentors such as Sippie Wallace and Calypso Rose alongside contemporary songwriters like Jackson Browne. She gradually developed a refreshingly adult musical persona that combined hard-hitting, ageless roots rock with relatable emotional balladry. Indeed, her slow tunes are not unlike that famous gray streak shooting through her red hair.

Dig in Deep contains a good deal of painful self-reflection. Bonnie Bishop's "Undone," Raitt explains, is about "the demise of a relationship, when you've had a hellacious fight and said things you can't take back." Who hasn't been there?

Raitt wrote "The Ones We Couldn't Be" after a difficult period several years ago, when she lost her parents and brother. The track closes the album on a note of acceptance. "There's some reckoning that happens when time goes by after relationships," the songwriter says. "You realize you're much more accountable and able to see the part you played in it."

Raitt's backlist, too, has matured over the decades. "When you spend 45 years singing 'Love Has No Pride,'" she notes, "it takes on different meanings than it had the day I recorded it."

Writing, recording and performing remain at the top of her bucket list. "I'm so grateful to still have work," says Raitt. Yoga and cycling keep her sane on tour; being sober for nearly three decades has helped, too.

For the release of 2012's Slipstream, Raitt responded to the changes — some say collapse — of the music industry by starting her own label, Redwing Records. She had always exerted artistic control over the selection of songs and musicians, but now she can direct everything else about her art, as well.

Raitt was shocked to learn that the artists "whose shoulders I stand on" rarely received royalties for the tracks they cut. "None of the Temptations or Four Tops ever made any royalties," she fumes. "That was a cold bucket of water for me." Besides working to reform that injustice as a founder of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, Raitt makes sure her own crew is treated well.

"I asked B.B. King why he stayed on the road so much. He said, 'I have a large band to support.'"

Bonnie Raitt feels the same way about her guys: "Hey, we'll be in our 70s soon. If I don't get that new record out, I've got 22 people out of work."