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!
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)
• 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