For someone with such a deep California/New England pedigree - daughter of Broadway/Hollywood actor John Raitt, schooled at Radcliffe and the Northeast coffeehouse '60s folk scene, now living in Northern California - Bonnie Raitt sure gets Texas music. She could almost be the female Delbert McClinton, in fact, except that Delbert's songs generally don't get made into Julia Roberts movies. Thursday night at Verizon Wireless Theater, Raitt was talkative and congenial - very complimentary of the stage floor, and even gave a shout-out to the Rockets: "I've been playing hurt for 40 years" - but the evening was tinged with sadness. Before she played a note, Raitt dedicated Thursday's set to good friend and frequent collaborator Stephen Bruton, the longtime Austin roots musician who passed away last Saturday after a long battle with throat cancer. Bruton would have definitely approved of opener "Talk to Me," written by fellow Fort Worth native Jerry Lynn Williams and played as a sturdy blues with strolling B-3 organ.
Raitt's show was an object lesson in what it takes to make the blues palatable to an audience who, well, goes to see a lot of Julia Roberts movies. It doesn't take much, really: softening the sharper guitar edges with generous doses of B-3, locking into a solid mid-'60s Dylan/Stones groove, like she and her band did on "Longing in Their Hearts" and "I Will Not Be Broken," a rare song from her most recent album, 2005's
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And softening the edges doesn't mean taking the grit out, either. Raitt played "Love Me Like a Man," from 1972's Give It Up (her second album) on acoustic guitar, but with plenty of dirt under her fingernails and Muddy Waters mojo working. Even a comfortable cover of James Taylor's "Rainy Day Man," while not quite as sensual, came with a bluesy wink. And if anyone in the theater breathed during John Prine's spellbinding "Angel from Montgomery," which she dedicated to her late mother and "all the mothers out there," Aftermath sure didn't hear them. Raitt stayed down South for a Cajun-spiced take on Johnnie Taylors Stax classic "Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone," as bold and brassy and vintage McClinton. She saluted Bruton one more time before a lively "Something to Talk About," which actually had a few brave souls dancing in the aisles, and closed out the main set with more bayou boogie courtesy of the Fabulous Thunderbirds' "I Believe I'm In Love." After all that, it really was hard to believe she's not from Texas, or at least the South. Finally, "I Can't Make You Love Me" made a hushed, solemn encore. Where's that movie?