Bodacious Little Redhead

Bonnie Raitt, with Keb’ Mo’. At the Santa Barbara Bowl, Sunday,
September 10

Reviewed by Matt Kettmann

Bonnie-Raitt.jpgAlthough unquestionably a powerful
performer in her own right, Bonnie Raitt’s path to musical stardom
is largely built on collaborations with bluesmen of the highest
order. Those experiences both validated her early on and provided
the experience to grow into one of the most endearing faces in
modern blues. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that, as she expands
her own catalogue into such meaningful gems as the recent Souls
Alive release, Raitt continues working with the baddest bluesmen

That’s referring, of course, to her current touring with Keb’
Mo’, a tall giant — not wide like most of his genre’s
predecessors — in the world of contemporary blues. Keb’ sports a
traditional deep, resonant voice, but sings atop a newer brand of
blues music: tight, clean, and a refreshing antidote to the down
’n’ dirty Delta styles. Dressed in a lime green shirt and topped
with his trademark white Panama hat, he showed the Bowl crowd as
much over tunes like “Rita,” “The Itch,” and “Whole ’Nutha Thang,”
all off his latest release, Suitcase. Then he introduced Cate
School graduate Jeff Paris on keys, prompting Paris to launch into
a harp session that invigorated the Bowl. As a rare opening-act
encore, Keb returned to the stage with Bonnie Raitt for a slow
tune, letting the crowd see the palpable sexual tension that the
two are toying with on this tour.

Then it was time for more Bonnie, whom Keb’ referred to as a
“bodacious little redhead with a shiny slide guitar.” In front of a
taffeta stage set, Raitt treated the adoring sold-out Bowl audience
to a litany of songs old — she started with Muddy Waters’s “I Love
the Life I Live” — and new, such as the recent album’s political
“Everybody’s Crying Mercy” and the post-Katrina New Orleans tribute
“God Was in the Water.” Keyboardist, singer, and songwriter Jon
Cleary got his fair share of the spotlight too, but it was Raitt
who reigned, even showing that she was at the top of her game by
switching up the set list a handful of times. Raitt’s encore, which
followed the “Let’s Give ’em Something to Talk About” hit she
dedicated to Anne and Hale Milgrim, featured Keb’s return and the
playing of Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789.” By evening’s end, everyone
went home happy and full of easily quaffable blues.


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