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music friday: bonnie raitt, “angel from montgomery”

There are various places where I can get a list of the music I’m listening to. Last.fm is as good as any, since it’s been keeping track of music I play on the computer, mobile devices, and Internet radio over the years and the changes in software. It’s far from perfect, but it’s all I’ve got, if I want to find out not just what I think I like, but what I actually listen to.

I decided to do a Bonnie Raitt song for today’s Music Friday. First, I thought to pick my favorite of her songs, “Sweet and Shiny Eyes”, from her mostly-forgotten mid-70s album, Home Plate. Would have been timely, too … the cover of the album shows Bonnie sliding into home. That has long been my favorite of her songs. I then thought to pick one of her standards, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, which was introduced on Luck of the Draw, the album that was as good as everyone thought Nick of Time was. Finally, I thought to check out Last.fm, and find out which of those two songs was my Most Played Bonnie Raitt Track.

The answer, of course, is neither. “Something” is #2, and “Sweet and Shiny Eyes” is tied for 9th. The Bonnie Raitt song I play most often is John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery”.

One reason for this is that “Angel” can be found in multiple places. There’s her first version, from Streetlights, which is where the song really had an impact on a larger audience than Prine had (he had recorded it for his debut album in 1971). She sang it at “No Nukes”. It closes off her fine live album, Road Tested. And it’s on most/all of her greatest hits packages. In short, it is likely to show up on shuffle play, if nothing else.

A lot of people have covered, and continue to cover, “Angel from Montgomery”. Heck, John Denver had a version that came out a year before Raitt’s. (I learned something from Wikipedia that’s far weirder than John Denver singing “Angel from Montgomery”. Apparently, the funk group Cameo, famous for the classic “Word Up”, “frequently performs a version of the song as a tribute to Prine's influence on their songwriting.”

Enough trivia, let’s get to the song. We saw Bonnie Raitt a couple of times, once in 1982 (Rosanne Cash opened), and once in … well, I don’t remember, but Prine was the opening act, which delighted us. As I recall (memory being untrustworthy), Prine came onstage to duet with Raitt on “Angel”. (One thing I remember much more clearly is the moment when Bonnie said she wanted to play one for the long-time fans, and out came our beloved “Sweet and Shiny Eyes”.) Here is Raitt singing it in 1974 (holy shit, that’s almost 40 years ago):

Here’s the Road Tested version (I think), with Prine joining in:


And, for good measure, “Sweet and Shiny Eyes”: