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

Adele’s New Album 30 Is a Powerful Pop Revelation

Not in a million years did I ever think I was going to write a post to review an album by Adele – not to mention characterizing it as a “powerful pop revelation!” I bet many frequent visitors of my blog didn’t see this coming either. Well, I suppose music sometimes can work in mysterious ways!

On closer scrutiny, perhaps my take is only partially surprising. After all, I’ve said many times how much I dig great vocals, and there’s no doubt in mind Adele is one of the most compelling contemporary vocalists. But one could also point to other examples like Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé, and I’m not exactly jumping up and down about their music. So what’s going on here? Actually, it’s faily simple: Prompted by all the buzz this album has generated, I listened to 30 over the weekend, and it just drew me in!

While I resumed paying attention to new music about 1.5 years ago and launched my weekly Best of What’s New series, I still pretty much ignore the mainstream charts and the artists grabbing the top spots there. In the case of Adele, I didn’t track the weeks leading up to the release of 30, but only a person living under a rock could have completed missed it.

This recent USA Today story lays out the elaborate PR campaign to create buzz leading up to November 19, the day the album dropped. Some of the elements included the October 15th release of lead single Easy On Me, the November 1 revelation of the album’s official tracklist, and the November 14 CBS special Adele One Night Only. The latter featured three then-still-unheard tunes from 30, along with other songs from previous Adele albums, as well as an interview with Oprah Winfrey. As reported by entertainment outlet Deadline, the TV special attracted 11.7 million viewers, surpassing the 2021 Oscars!

Adele One Night Only

30 is Adele’s fourth studio album and her first new release in six years after 25. From the very first line of the opener Strangers By Nature, it becomes evident 30 is very personal. Adele tackles heavy subjects like divorce, motherhood and the pitfalls of fame, and she doesn’t hold back. No question this was part of the reason why I started paying close attention as I was listening to these tracks for the first time. I simply had not expected this!

Adele co-wrote all of the songs, working with various songwriters and producers, especially Greg Kurstin and Dean Wynton Josiah Cover, professionally known as Inflo. Her extensive involvement in songwriting is actually nothing new and was also the case on her previous albums. But it’s something I had not realized since I never cared to check! I have a lot of respect for music artists who write their songs; even more so, if they also are true musicians. Adele plays acoustic guitar and, according to Wikipedia, performed acoustic sets early in her career. She also played guitar and bass on some of the songs on her 2008 debut album 19 – again something that was new to me!

Let’s get to some music. Here’s the aforementioned opener Strangers By Nature, co-written by Adele (credited by her full name Adele Adkins) and Ludwig Göransson, a Swedish composer and producer. Like most other tracks on 30, the song is on the quiet side. It starts with I’ll be taking flowers to the cemetery of my heart, the above line that got my attention. The fact it sounds like music from an old movie isn’t a coincidence. “I’d watched the Judy Garland biopic,” Adele told Zane Lowe during an extended interview for Apple Music. “And I remember thinking, ‘Why did everyone stop writing such incredible melodies and cadences and harmonies?'”

Next up is the album’s above-mentioned lead single Easy On Me. Co-written by Adele and Kurstin, the powerful tune is about Adele’s fraught childhood, her lost marriage and the lessons learnt and unlearnt about family, love and abandonment along the way, noted British Vogue. “My son [Angelo James – CMM] has had a lot of questions. Really good questions, really innocent questions, that I just don’t have an answer for,” Adele told Vogue. “I just felt like I wanted to explain to him, through this record, when he’s in his twenties or thirties, who I am and why I voluntarily chose to dismantle his entire life in the pursuit of my own happiness. It made him really unhappy sometimes. And that’s a real wound for me that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to heal.” This is tough and authentic-sounding stuff, and it evidently resonated. The Washington Post reported Easy On Me set new streaming records on Spotify and Amazon Music.

Perhaps the most personal tune and the one that touched me the most is My Little Love, another song Adele wrote for her son Angelo. It features excerpts from conversations between Adele and the young boy who was born in October 2012, as well as voice memos she recorded to capture her struggles with the situation. Frankly, it’s a tear-jerker some people might find a bit too intense, but I think it’s pretty powerful. Call me crazy, the soft music almost reminds me of something Marvin Gaye could have recorded. I just find this incredible!

30 isn’t all about sorrow and regret. One example is Can I Get It, which picks up the tempo and with some whistling in the chorus sounds more upbeat. Adele created this song together with Swedish songwriters and producers Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster, known as Shellback. The lyrics are a clear indication Adele is ready to move on from her recent divorce. Pave me a path to follow/And I’ll tread any dangerous road/I will beg and I’ll steal, I will borrow/If I can make, if I can make your heart my home…In fact, Adele recently started dating American sports agent Rich Paul. Musically speaking, the tune isn’t so much my cup of tea, but it nicely breaks up an otherwise largely somber album.

The last track I’d like to call out is Hold On, one of the co-writes with Inflo. It’s another reflective tune but with a silver lining. “I definitely lost hope a number of times that I’d ever find my joy again,” Adele told Apple Music about the song. “But I didn’t realize I was making progress until I wrote ‘Hold On’ and listened to it back. Later, I was like, ‘Oh, fuck, I’ve really learned a lot. I’ve come a long way.”

Before wrapping up this post, it feels right to give Adele the final word about this remarkable album: “I was certainly nowhere near where I’d hoped to be when I first started it nearly 3 years ago,” she wrote on her website. “Quite the opposite actually…I’ve learned a lot of blistering home truths about myself along the way…It was my ride or die throughout the most turbulent period of my life. When I was writing it, it was my friend who came over with a bottle of wine and a takeaway to cheer me up…I’ve painstakingly rebuilt my house and my heart since then and this album narrates it.”

I think we’ve just witnessed the release of an album that is going to dominate the charts, will be included in many year-end lists, and win a bunch of Grammys next year. This would add to the 33-year-old’s impressive accomplishments to date. According to Wikipedia, Adele has sold more than 120 million records, making her one of the world’s best-selling music artists. Her sophomore release 21 was certified 17 X Platinum in the UK, and became the world’s best-selling album of the 21st century in 2011 with over 31 million sold copies. Adele’s accolades include 15 Grammy Awards and nine Brit Awards.

Sources: Wikipedia; USA Today; Deadline; Apple Music; British Vogue; The Washington Post; Adele website; YouTube