Bonnie Raitt always goes out of her way to share her love of music with her fans. Whether that means mentioning the writers of the songs she sings during her performance or making sure that her opening act, in this case Lyle Lovett, is as major an artist as she is, Raitt always seems aware of her relationship to other musicians.
But Friday night at the Fox Theatre, she was certainly proud of her own music, as well. “Lyle Lovett and his Large Band,” she announced from the stage, “and me and my band! That’s a real American music celebration!”
And it was. Raitt’s performance was brilliant, even better than the one she gave at Westport Playhouse — she commented that it was strange to be in St. Louis without going around in circles on stage — eight months ago at the beginning of her long tour in support of her latest LP, “Nick of Time.” Most of the songs were once again drawn from that album, but the band’s arrangements had been honed to perfection.
Raitt has a reputation of being a red-hot blues mama, but despite her roots in blues styles, her true charm is the sweetness she brings to the music. Whether doing an old-style twelve-bar blues or a modern pop song, she sang lovely melodies with a clear, beautiful voice, yet was always aware of the meaning of the lyrics. Her slide guitar playing matched the eloquence of her vocals. Her style is one of understatement, with an emphasis on melody, and it is purely her own. The true measure of how good Raitt’s performance was came when the show ended after a little over an hour, and it seemed like the audience had heard only fifteen minutes.
Lovett, also a veteran of Westport Playhouse appearances in the past two years, did not surpass his show there in January, but he did not shame its memory, either. Lovett continues to grow in popularity, despite his going out of the way to do things that would seem to confound any such occurrence. No other musician could get away with inserting a long drum solo, played mostly on just the rims of the drums, followed by a free jazz cello solo, in an otherwise straightforward and lovely little country song. He not only did this, and did it brilliantly, but he received a standing ovation for his performance.
Lovett is an intelligent and unusual songwriter, mixing and matching country, folk, and jazz influences to create a varied and strong body of work.
Francine Reed, who sings back-up in his band, and who took one lead vocal, almost stole the show with her growling take on “Wild Women Never Sing the Blues.” Lovett’s vocals, while dry enough to match the heavy irony in many of his songs, were very good as well. He proved he could be soulful when he wanted to, when he teamed up with Raitt on a sizzling version of the Fontella Bass/Bobby McClure classic, “Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing.“