Bonnie Raitt Beams at The Mann

Lucinda Williams opens great night at Philly’s nonprofit performing arts center

When you visit the website of the Mann Center of the Performing Arts, the first chiron flashing on your screen reads “The Mann is music”. While this is followed by multiple other pronouncements, music is what ruled last night at Philadelphia’s prominent outdoor nonprofit performing arts venue. Great music, delivered by Bonnie Raitt, one of my all-time favorite artists, and her special guest Lucinda Williams who opened the beautiful night.

My decision to see Raitt again was relatively last minute, since at the time I already had tickets for three other shows in June. Until then, I had never planned to go to four concerts by “big artists” during the same month. I may be a music nut, but that’s certainly a pace I cannot maintain, and it’s not just because of high ticket prices, though the latter are a key factor!

Fun at The Mann with great music, nice view of Philly and gourmet pizza!

Before getting to Bonnie Raitt, I’d like to say a few words about Lucinda Williams. Until I saw the bill included the Americana singer-songwriter, who is a few years younger than Raitt and started her recording career in 1979, I had only been familiar with her name. The title of her fifth and to date best-selling studio album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (such a great image!) also rang a distant bell.

Over her now 43-year-and-counting recording career, Williams has released 14 studio albums, one live record, two video albums and 20-plus singles – not exactly a massive catalog, given the long period. Her most recent album Good Souls Better Angels appeared in April 2020. In November of that same year, Williams had a stroke at her home in Nashville. Fortunately, she recovered, though last night she still seemed to have some mobility challenges and did not play guitar. But Williams still delivered what I thought was a very solid performance.

Here’s Drunken Angel, a tune off the aforementioned Car Wheels on a Gravel Road album. When Williams announced the song last evening she said she wrote it in honor of her friend Blaze Foley, a Texas country singer-songwriter who apparently was prone to drinking and was shot and killed in a bar “over a senseless argument”. Williams also noted Foley had been chasing Townes Van Zandt, “but nobody could keep up with Townes.” Apparently, Foley did become friends with Van Zandt who ended up writing a song about him, Blaze’s Blues.

Before moving on to Bonnie Raitt’s set, let’s do another song Williams performed: You Can’t Rule Me, a nice adaption from a Memphis Minnie composition, which originally was recorded sometime between 1935 and 1941. Williams included it on her most recent album. The blues rock lover in me smiled!

And on to Bonnie Raitt who I had last seen in August 2016 at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. From the very beginning, it felt as if time had stood still. Raitt looked and sounded the same as six years ago. The only difference were her set included various songs from her excellent latest album Just Like That…, which came out in April this year and which I previously reviewed here. Raitt started her set with the album’s great opener Made Up Mind. Check out that sweet sound – so good!

In addition to playing five tunes from Just Like That…, Raitt drew from other albums throughout her career, including Luck of the Draw (1991), Nick of Time (1989), Silver Lining (2002), Streetlights (1974), Dig In Deep (2016) and the live release Road Tested (1995). Here’s No Business, a song written by John Hiatt, one of four tracks Raitt played from Luck of the Draw. Raitt, who has recorded various tunes by Hiatt, reiterated her admiration of the great roots rock singer-songwriter.

In addition to Just Like That…, which os my favorite Bonnie Raitt album these days, I’ve always loved Nick of Time. Her 10th studio album brought Raitt on my radar screen in 1989. Let’s do the title track, which she penned. Her commercial breakthrough album is best known for the hit single Thing Called Love, which happens to be another John Hiatt composition. Perhaps the official video featuring American actor Dennis Quaid also helped boost mainstream success. Nick of Time saw Raitt switch from her main instrument to keyboards – nice!

Next, let’s turn to Livin’ For the Ones, another great tune from the Just Like That… album. Raitt wrote the words to music composed by her longtime guitarist George Marinelli. I just love that Stonesy sound!

No Bonnie Raitt show would be complete without Angel From Montgomery, a long-time fan favorite. It was written by John Prine, another songwriter Raitt loves and called out last night. In fact, she dedicated the title track of her new album to Prine, noting the style was inspired by the story-telling songs Prine had written. Angel From Montgomery is included on Raitt’s above-mentioned fourth studio album Streetlights. This is one timeless gem!

This brings me to the final tune I’d like to highlight. I Can’t Make You Love Me, another track from Luck of the Draw, is one of Raitt’s best-known songs. While she has had many great songs over the decades, Raitt has only scored a few mainstream hits. During a recent interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music, she didn’t seem to mind her relative lack of chart success. In fact, Raitt said after Nick of Time, she had been nervous she would now be measured by that album’s chart performance. Luck of the Draw turned out to be hugely successful as well. I Can’t Make You Love Me, a pop ballad co-written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin, is one of three songs that made the top 20 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100.

Bonnie Raitt said two things last night, which are among the many reasons I dig her as an artist. She expressed her happiness to be back on the road, noting the long break from touring had been torture. Raitt also stated she has no plans to retire since she enjoys performing. In this context, she called out other artists like Willie Nelson and Mick Jagger, who are no longer 19 years either. She added she hopes to see the Stones, wishing Jagger the best, who recently came down with COVID.

Before wrapping up this post, I’d like to acknowledge Raitt’s fantastic band. Apart from the above-mentioned guitarist George Marinelli, who also sings, the line-up includes Duke Levine (guitar, vocals), Glenn Patscha (keyboards, vocals), James “Hutch” Hutchinson (bass) and Ricky Fataar (drums). Marinelli, Hutchinson and Fataar have worked with Raitt for many years, both on the road and in the studio. For more on each musician, check out their impressive bios on her website.

Here’s Raitt’s setlist from last night:
• Made Up Mind
• Waitin’ for You to Blow
• No Business
• Blame It on Me
• Nick of Time
• Back Around
• Just Like That
• Something to Talk About
• Livin’ for the Ones
• Have a Heart
• Need You Tonight (INXS cover)
• Angel From Montgomery (John Prine cover)
• Burning Down the House (Talking Heads cover)

Encore:
• I Can’t Make You Love Me (Mike Reid cover)
• Not the Only One (Paul Brady cover)

Raitt’s Just Like That… tour is next headed to Boston’s Leader Bank Pallivion (June 17), Tanglewood in Lennox, Mass. (June 18) and New York City’s Beacon Theatre (June 21 and June 22 – both shows are sold out). The full schedule is here. If you like Raitt and can still get a ticket you can afford, I’d highly recommend it. That lady is the real deal!

Sources: Wikipedia; Bonnie Raitt website; Setlist.fm; YouTube

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And Just Like That Bonnie Raitt Releases Her Best Album to Date

Since finding out the other day that Bonnie Raitt was going to come out with a new album I had been full of anticipation. The wait was finally over last Friday (April 22). Not only is Just Like That… Raitt’s 21st album and her first new release in more than six years, but I increasingly feel it’s her best work to date in a 51-year recording career!

As people who follow this blog or are aware of my music taste otherwise know, Raitt is one of my long-time favorite artists. Since my former German bandmate and music buddy introduced me to Nick of Time in 1989, I’ve listened to this amazing lady. From the get-go, I loved her smooth slide guitar playing (btw, I read she’s completely self-taught!), as well her voice and songs. My appreciation increased even further after seeing Raitt at NJPAC in Newark, N.J. in August 2016. She’s just a phenomenal music artist!

According to Raitt’s website, work on Just Like That… began last summer when it appeared things with this tiresome pandemic were headed in a better direction, and she brought her band to Northern California: Duke Levine (guitar, vocals), George Marinelli (guitar, vocals), Glenn Patscha (keyboard, vocals), James “Hutch” Hutchinson (bass) and Ricky Fataar (drums). “I’ve always wanted to make a record here [closer to her home – CMM], and once vaccinations made traveling safe again, we were thrilled to get everyone back together,” she explained. “I think the absolute joy and relief of reuniting to play live music is really palpable on this record.”

“On this record, I wanted to stretch,” Raitt further pointed out. “I always want to find songs that excite me, and what’s different this time is that I’ve tried some styles and topics I haven’t touched on before.” Raitt has always had a gift to pick and interpret great songs written by other artists, such as John Hiatt, Gary Nicholson, Wayne Kirkpatrick and John Prine. Apart from continuing that tradition, Just Like That… also features four tunes written by Raitt – more than the usual two to three original songs on previous albums. Time for some music!

Here’s the great opener Made Up Mind, a song by Canadian roots-rock band The Bros. Landreth from their 2013 album Let It Lie. The song was co-written by David Landreth, Jonathan Singleton and Joseph Landreth. Raitt’s rendition was first released on February 22 as the first of three upfront singles. “Made Up Mind I fell in love with in 2014 from The Bros. Landreth who opened a show for us in Canada,” Raitt told Zane Lowe during a 1-hour interview for Apple Music. Can’t blame her. Here’s the excellent original in case you’re curious!

Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart is a tune by American guitarist and songwriter Al Anderson, who according to his AllMusic bio “is best known for his 22-year stint with roots-rock renegades NRBQ” [between 1971 and 1993 – CMM]. “Al Anderson I’ve been friends with, with one of my favorite bands, NRBQ,” Raitt told Zane. “He was the lead singer and guitar player for them, one of the lead singers. And I’ve had that song for 30 years.” Like Made Up Mind, the track first appeared as an upfront single, on March 25. Love this tune!

Since I included Livin’ For the Ones, another highlight of the album, in my last Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here and go right to the title song. Written by Raitt, it’s a deeply touching story song inspired by a news story she had watched on TV. “They followed this woman who was going to the house of the man who received her son’s heart she donated when he passed away, for the first time,” Raitt told Zane. “…And he invited her to sit on the couch…And then he said, ‘would you like to put your head on my chest and listen to your son’s heart?’ [Raitt’s voice breaks] It laid me out. It just laid me out.” Just picturing the scene Raitt described makes you cry!

Things turn funky on Waitin’ For You to Blow, another original. According to a statement on Raitt’s website, the song is inspired by Mose Allison, Les McCann and Eddie Harris, and ‘70s funk. “There’s something thrilling about creating something brand new out of feelings and styles that have always run so deep in me,” Raitt stated. Check out the cool groove of that tune!

The last track I’d like to call out is Love So Strong, a song by Jamaican ska and rock steady group Toots and the Maytals from their 2007 album Light Your Light. The above statement notes Raitt had planned to do that tune as her third duet with the band’s frontman Toots Hibbert, but her dear friend passed away in 2020. Raitt ended up recording the groovy song as a tribute to Hibbert, who is regarded as a reggae pioneer like Bob Marley.

Bonnie Raitt produced Just Like That…. Like her two previous albums, Dig In Deep (2016) and Slipstream (2012), Just Like That… appears on Redwing Records. The album was recorded and mixed by Ryan Freeland who had served as engineer and mixer on the Grammy-winning Slipstream. Freeland has also worked with Ray LaMontagne, Aimee Mann, Loudon Wainwright III and Alana Davis, among others.

Here’s a Spotify link to the album:

The final word shall belong to Raitt who as stated on her website has never felt more grateful that she can continue making music, contributing to causes, keeping her crew working, and connecting with her audience. “I’m really aware of how lucky I am and I feel like my responsibility is to get out there and say something fresh and new—for me and for the fans,” she says. “It’s really daunting not to repeat yourself, but I have to have something to say, or I wouldn’t put out a record.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Bonnie Raitt website; Apple Music; AllMusic; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

Lynyrd Skynyrd Shines During Farewell Show In New Jersey

Skynyrd Nation celebration also features Atlanta Rhythm Section and Peter Wolf as special guests

When Johnny Van Zant asked the audience last night whether folks showed up because they are die-hard Lynyrd Skynyrd fans or because it’s their farewell tour, I answered ‘both’ to myself. While I’ve listened to Skynyrd for 20-plus years and like many of their songs, I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard fan. And, yes, part of my motivation to see these southern rockers at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. on Friday was the fact that this may well have been the last opportunity, if they indeed retire.

Recently, I read that Skynyrd added dates to extend their Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour. Maybe additional gigs will follow. Maybe it’ll turn into a Deep Purple-like “long goodbye tour.” Or maybe they’ll change their minds altogether, just like Scorpions did a few years go when the German rockers realized they couldn’t just decelerate from running at 200 mph to zero. Who knows.

Lynyrd Skynyrd Farewell Tour Poster

Compared to artists like The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Neil Young and especially 81-year-old Buddy Guy, Skynyrd certainly has relatively young members – at age 68, guitarist Rickey Medlocke is the oldest. Gary Rossington, guitarist and the band’s only remaining co-founder, is 66. Johnny Van Zant, the younger brother of co-founder and initial lead vocalist, the late Ronnie Van Zant, is 58. The other members are still in their 50s as well. One thing was crystal clear to me last night: Lynyrd Skynyrd sounded absolutely fantastic! And maybe that’s the whole point of the early retirement plan – go out while they’re still on top of their game.

Before Skynyrd came on and set the stage on fire, there were three guests. I didn’t catch the name of the band that opened up the long evening but certainly recognized the artists who followed: Atlanta Rhythm Section and Peter Wolf, ex-vocalist of the J. Geils Band. They compensated for my disappointment when I realized that contrary to what I had read somewhere before, Bad Company, a band I would have loved to see, wasn’t among the special guests.

Atlanta Rhythm Section
Atlanta Rhythm Section

Frankly, I wasn’t even aware that ALR are still performing. Two of their current members, Rodney Justo (lead vocals) and Dean Daughtry (keyboards), have been around since the band’s formation in 1971, though in Justo’s case, it looks like were some breaks along the way. The remaining current line-up includes Steve Stone (guitar, harmonica, backing vocals), Justin Senker (bass), David Anderson (guitar, backing vocals) and Rodger Stephan (drums, backing vocals).

Except for Spooky and So Into You, I’m not well familiar with ALR’s songs but can confirm that in addition to these tunes, their set included Champagne Jam and Imaginary Lover, among others. Here’s a clip I took of my favorite ALR tune So Into You, a song I liked for its smoothness from the moment I heard it for the first time on the radio in Germany in the late 70s.

Next up was Peter Wolf. I was pretty pumped when I found out he was among the special guests last night. I’ve really come to like the J. Geils Band and ended up seeing them a few years ago. These guys truly were the ultimate party band. Wolf pretty much brought out that same swagger last night. He still has his distinct voice, charismatic stage presence and the occasional machine gun-like fast talking!

The set included a mix of J. Geils Band tunes, such as Homework, Give It To Me, Must Of Got Lost and Love Stinks, and songs from Wolf’s solo career like Wastin’ Time and Piece Of MindThe Midnight Travelers, which include Duke Levine (guitar), Kevin Barry (guitar), Marty Ballou (bass), Tom Arey (drums) and Tom West (keyboards), proved to be a top-notch backing band. Here’s my clip of Homework.

After Wolf and The Midnight Travelers had fired up the crowd with an energetic performance, it was time for the big enchilada. From the opening bars of Working For MCA till the last note of the epic Free Bird, Skynyrd made it clear they meant business and didn’t want to say farewell quietly. In addition to these tunes, their set included many other gems like What’s Your Name, That Smell, Saturday Night Special, Tuesday’s Gone, Simple Man, Call Me The Breeze and, of course, Sweet Home Alabama.

Below is my clip of What’s Your Name, one of my favorite Skynyrd tunes. Co-written by Rossington and Ronnie Van Zant, it appeared on their fifth studio album Street Survivors in October 1977 – released only three days prior to the devastating plane crash that killed Ronnie, Steve Gains (guitarist) and Steve’s sister Cassie Gains (backing vocalist), along with the pilot, co-pilot and the band’s assistant road manager. Incredibly, Rossington not only survived the crash, but eventually made a fully recovery despite breaking both arms, legs, wrists, ankles and his pelvis.

Another highlight of Skynyrd’s set to me was That Smell, also from the Street Survivors album, which was co-written by guitarist and founding member Allen Collins and Ronnie Van Zant. In particular, I dug the harmonizing guitar parts. Since my cell phone battery was starting to run low on juice, I didn’t capture the performance, so needed to rely on other footage I found on YouTube. Here’s a clip from a gig in Tampa last month. Obviously, it was taken from a location way closer to the stage where I was last night, and frankly it is much better than anything I could have recorded!

Another song I’d like to highlight is Call Me The Breeze. I’ve always liked that J.J. Cale tune and Skynyrd’s take of it. As they were playing it last night, they turned it into an homage to the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and many other music legends, displaying images of them on the main monitor behind the stage – I thought this was kind of cool. Apparently, Skynyrd didn’t do that during their concert back in March in Atlanta, where the following clip was recorded. But it’s great quality concert footage.

In light of my cell phone battery situation, it came down to a choice between capturing Sweet Home Alabama or the encore Free Bird. Given the extended length of the latter, I went for Alabama, which is also my favorite of the two. The opener to Skynyrd’s sophomore record Second Helping, released in April 1974, was co-written by Rossington, Van Zant and then-bassist Ed King. To me it hasn’t lost any of its appeal to this day!

Of course, making the above choice doesn’t mean skipping Free Bird in this  post, especially when there are great other clips on YouTube. The song, which was included on Skynyrd’s debut album Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd from August 1973, turned into an emotional commemoration of Ronnie Van Zant. Here’s a beautiful clip from the above Tampa show.

In addition to Van Zant, Medlocke and Rossington, Skynyrd’s current line-up features Michael Cartellone (drums), Mark Matejka (guitar), Peter Keys (keyboards) and Keith Christopher (bass). The touring band is complemented by backing vocalists Dale Krantz-Rossington (Gary’s wife) and Carol Chase. Skynyrd’s upcoming dates include Jones Beach Theatre, Wantagh, N.Y. tonight; Coastal Credit Union Music Park, Raleigh, N.C., June 29; and PNC Music Pavilion, Charlotte, N.C., June 30. Earlier this month,  Ultimate Classic Rock reported that the band announced 21 additional dates, which extend the current tour from early September all the way to December. Let’s hope there will be additional extensions.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.com, Atlanta Rhythm Section official website, Ultimate Classic Rock, YouTube