On Saturday night in Portland, Bonnie Raitt kept saying how happy she was to be back on tour performing to a grateful crowd. “The Road’s My Middle Name,” she sang enthusiastically at one point.
During the sold-out concert at Merrill Auditorium, the 72-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist confirmed why she’s a multiple award winner and inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Her signature blend of sensitive folk, slow-burning blues, and catchy pop (along with a few other things) was delivered through her distinctly soulful voice to a crowd that seemed to feel it as much as she did, even though they were maybe -being unfamiliar with the songs from her new album – “Just Like That…” – which was released just a day before the show.
His longtime companions and frequent collaborators James “Hutch” Hutchinson (bass), Ricky Fataar (drums), Kenny Greenberg (guitar and mandolin), George Marinelli (guitar) and Glenn Patscha (keyboards) provided strong support for the redhead at the guitar. center stage.
The performance began with “Made Up Mind”, the title track from the new record. His chronicle of a relationship ending in sad determination fits perfectly with the longstanding emotional realism of Raitt’s work. This was highlighted by his expressive slide guitar playing, which is almost like an extension of his vocals at this point.
In the same lyrical vein but delivered like a fiery blues, “Blame It On Me” reverses the roles on the search for faults in a breakup. The tune sets up the end result: a broken heart that she’s more than willing to “blame…on you.”
The singer’s roots in folk music were well represented by a tribute to her recently deceased friend, John Prine, whom she referenced several times during the nearly two-hour show. Sitting with an acoustic guitar in hand, she belted out Prine’s classic “Angel from Montgomery” and was visibly moved by the ending.
The title track of the new album, a Raitt original, was equally moving in its narration of a mother reunited, in a sense, with her deceased son. Another original, “Waitin’ for You to Blow,” featuring a bubbly organ solo from Patscha, made a seductive and funky case for recovery struggles. Her rendition of the power ballad “I Can’t Make You Love Me” was a moving highlight, with Raitt’s voice rising to the rafters of the acoustically friendly venue.
“Back Around,” a blues rooted in Malian music, led Raitt to add the high-pitched thrill of slide steel guitar to the mix. Greenberg’s mandolin flavored the reggae pulse of “Have a Heart” while Raitt’s take on the classic “Something to Talk About” emerged from an updated group intro.
“Livin’ For the Ones,” a Raitt/Marinelli tribute to lost friends, went wild with guitar lines weaved high into the mix. At the other extreme, “Nick of Time,” featuring Raitt on keyboards, was a breezy pop treat that the singer says made her think summer is on the way.
References to both the war in Ukraine and some of the homeless people she met earlier in the day in Portland showed that Raitt hasn’t lost her passion for causes near and far. All the while, she continues to champion the many powers of good music.
Opening the evening with a brief set was a sextet that originated in the same mid-twentieth-century era that produced Raitt.
NRBQ has defied labels over the years. Perhaps because of this, the band has endured as a fun treat to hear and see. Who else can start with a Duke Ellington riff, follow with a good rockabilly and country twang beat, then kick off a classic Afro-Cuban song before ending with a near-perfect rock rave-up?
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer living in Portland.
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