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Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal find perfect harmony on tour

on August 12, 2009 No comments
By Matthew Oshinsky
Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal perform Tuesday night at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark © Scott Newton

You never know beforehand if a musical duet will work. Will the partners just seem like two musicians who happen to be in the same room at the same time?

Or will their chemistry make the collaboration special?

Tuesday night at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal, who shared the stage for much of the evening, proved they have chemistry to spare. Growling the blues in a gruff but amiable way, Mahal brought out Raitt’s playful, animated side; they both seemed to be having the time of their lives.

“I feel like Sonny and Cher,” said Raitt at one point.

“What recession?” she shouted out later.

Bonnie Raitt smiles on stage as she and Taj Mahal perform at New Jersey Performing Arts Center Aug. 11, 2009 – Newark, New Jersey, USA © Andy Mills /Star Ledger/Corbis

There were some serious moments in the show, too — most notably, Raitt’s heart-wrenching ballads “Angel From Montgomery” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” But the heart of the show was its collaborative numbers.

Mahal, who performed his own set at the start of the evening, reappeared during Raitt’s set for a mini-set of blues numbers that also included a cameo by influential blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin. Then he and his band joined Raitt and her band for most of the encores; for these numbers, there were 12 musicians onstage, including two drummers and two bassists.

The duets included the half-spoken, joke-filled “Tramp” (most famous as a Otis Redding-Carla Thomas duet); one of Mahal’s signature songs, “She Caught the Katy (And Left Me a Mule to Ride)”; “Love So Strong,” written by Toots Hibbert of the reggae group Toots and the Maytals; and Raitt’s “Gnawin’ On it” (with an added excerpt from Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie”).

They also reached back to Raitt’s 1973 album “Takin’ My Time,” which Mahal co-produced, for the calypso-flavored “Wah She Go Do.” Raitt sang, with Mahal contributing backing vocals and maraca percussion.

Written by Calypso Rose, this is something of a feminist anthem, suggesting that cheated-on women cheat right back: “If he picks up an outside woman/Show him you could pick up two outside men/That’s the only way a woman should get some respect today.” Raitt sang it as if slyly giving advice to a friend.

Bonnie Raitt is all emotions at grandstand show

Mahal opened the show with his own Phantom Blues Band, including saxophonist Joe Sublett and trumpeter Darrell Leonard, who are known as the Texicali Horns. His set ranged from a mellow, soulful “Farther On Down the Road (You Will Accompany Me)” to a playfully exasperated “Leaving Trunk” and a funky “My Girl Josephine.” On “Senor Blues,” he added some Latin rhythm to the mix.

After an intermission, Raitt took the stage with her own band, with the Texicali Horns joining them for songs like “One Belief Away,” “Love Sneaking Up On You” and “Your Good Thing (Is About To End).” Raitt said she has been idolizing and learning from Majal for decades, and praised him for “showing me where the blues could go.”

She closed her set with the upbeat, rocking “I Believe I’m In Love With You” and, before welcoming Mahal back to the stage, started her encores with “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” a devastating song about unrequited love. She mentioned that she had met children from a local music-education program she supports, Little Kids Rock, earlier in the day, and added, “It will be a long time before these kids find out what this song means.”

Raitt and Mahal, who have known each other for more than 40 years, never hit the road together before this tour, which they are calling BonTaj Roulet — after the Cajun phrase, “Laissez les bon temps roulet” (“Let the good times roll”). The tour began last week, and is scheduled to run until the end of September; Raitt has said she’d like to keep touring with Mahal, occasionally, under the BonTaj Roulet name, possibly with other musicians joining them.

Source: © Copyright New Jersey On-Line

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