“It’s daunting, but it’s also a thrill when you … find something,” Bonnie Raitt says of exploring new music.
In the worlds of blues and roots music, older often means better.
Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal proved just that when they brought their Bon Taj Roulet tour to Phoenix’s Dodge Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 24.
Raitt, 59, has been playing her slinky meld of blues and rock for four decades. Mahal, 67, has his tourmate beat by half a decade or so.
Raitt told the appreciative Dodge audience that she has been inspired by and been friends with Mahal since the start of her career but the pair never have staged a tour together until this year.
Both artists made the most of it, playing sets with their own bands and then uniting for a raucous 45-minute finale that had hundreds of fans dancing in the aisles.
The good-natured Mahal opened the evening with his rootsy take on country blues and world music that was spawned by a childhood of listening to musical styles from around the globe.
His set showed off the multi-instrumentalist’s diversity with the funky, soulful “Farther On Down the Road (You Will Accompany Me)” (written by Mahal in 1969), Fats Domino’s rocking “Hello Josephine” and Horace Silver’s Latin-tinged “Senor Blues.”
Mahal, an imposing figure onstage, cracked the crowd up as he played maracas and shook all over during “Senor Blues,” which featured nice work by his Texicali Horns (saxophonist Joe Sublett and trumpet player Darrell Leonard).
He wrapped things up with one of his biggest tunes, 1968’s “EZ Rider,” with Mahal having fun working the harmonica.
Raitt took the stage and announced, “We’re celebrating roots music and survival.”
She had some fans standing and dancing from her set-opening “I Sho Do.”
Raitt took an extended turn on slide guitar for “Thing Called Love,” as well as the girl-power anthem “Your Good Thing (Is About To End).”
Throughout the set, she spotlighted a new member of her band, keyboardist Ricky Peterson of Minneapolis.
Peterson deserved the attention, bringing down the house with a jazzy solo on the bittersweet “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”
Raitt was joined on a handful of tunes by the horn players from Mahal’s Phantom Blues Band, adding tightness and power to songs like “Love Sneakin’ Up On You.”
She created a spine-tingling moment when she sang a part-a cappella version of John Prine’s lament of a worn-out relationship, “Angel From Montgomery.”
Raitt and Mahal clearly were having a blast playing off each other when they took the stage with their two bands.
Raitt pretended to give her pal a hard time during a medley of “Tramp” and “Scratch My Back,” with Mahal providing sassy comeback lines to each verbal jibe.
The most fun song was “Wah She Go Do,” from Raitt’s 1973 album, “Takin’ My Time” (co-produced by Mahal).
The Calypso-flavored song found Raiit explaining to Mahal why “a woman must have an outside man,” drawing loud approval from some women in the crowd.
Raitt and Mahal are naturals as fun-loving touring partners. Here’s hoping they team up again soon.