The abrupt halt to touring and recording activity in 2020 left a steeping collection of song ideas on Bonnie Raitt’s back burner. After being forced to cancel all her shows, including a tour of Canada with James Taylor, Raitt decided to get to work instead on a new record.
After two-plus years of a pandemic, Raitt kicked off a new tour this week, on which she’s bringing much of that new album — due for release April 22 — to live audiences for the first time. The tour made a stop at Syracuse’s Landmark Theatre in Syracuse Wednesday night.
“It’s great to be back out on the road after 2 ½ years” Raitt exclaimed with a smile from ear to ear, prompting a loud cheer from the sold-out audience.
The fresh sounding new album, “Just Like That,” is a deeply personal one, taking into account Raitt’s thoughts on the horrors of the Covid pandemic (which forced people to hunker down and change the way they go about their lives), disturbing social justice incidents, and uplifting stories that tug at the heart.
Raitt assembled a collection of journeymen musicians for the album and the tour: her long-time bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson, drummer Ricky Fataar, keyboardist and backing vocalist Glenn Patscha (his band Ollabelle was one of bands that gave rise to the Americana music movement), and guitarists George Marinelli and Kenny Greenberg. Guitarist Duke Levine has signed on for this tour with the others and will share duties on selected dates with Marinelli who has worked with Raitt for many years.
Raitt performed the title track “Just Like That,” a ballad whose lyrics exposed her sensitive, personal side. She told the story about a young man’s organ donation saving several lives. One of the recipients received a new heart and offered the mother of the donor to touch his chest to hear her son’s beating heart. You could hear a pin drop in the Landmark as Raitt relayed the story. The song also revisits the acoustic guitar and finger picking elements of her first few albums.
She introduced “Down The Hall,” a gripping song based on a news story she saw about selfless caregivers willing to attend to those in prison who have nobody else in their lives and were about to slip away.
She also gave several shout-outs to local artist Jonah Smith, who penned the song “When We Say Goodnight,” another track from the new album. Smith was in the audience Wednesday.
She spoke of her days as an activist in college on the East Coast, combined with the proliferation of folk music and its interpretations. That led her to align herself with people who sought to address environmental concerns and social justice where it was lacking.
The musical foundation she was exposed to early on has never left her. Among the highlights of the night was “Living For The Ones” which reflects her feelings and thoughts about people she’s lost: her parents and brother, as well as kindred spirits like John Prine, Toots Hibbert (Toots and The Maytals) and personal friends.
The night’s setlist also included favorites “Longing In Their Hearts,” the John Hiatt-penned “Thing Called Love,” “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and her highest charting hit, “Something to Talk About.”
“Just Like That” is a project that surfaced partially from the observations and awareness of people who faced a downward spiral of grief and despair on every level along with the stories of redemption and transformation, an affirmation of hope that all is not lost. Raitt was able to convey these thoughts to a sold-out audience whose reactions to her comments align with her thinking that there has to be an upside to what we’re experiencing now.