For her headlining spot on opening night of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Thursday night at Coachman Park, veteran singer and slide-guitar slinger Bonnie Raitt turned in yet another impressive set of blues-rooted rock and pop.
Raitt has a well-earned reputation for vocals that carry an emotional wallop, tight arrangements of catchy material, and dynamic musical connections with a high-voltage backing band — keyboardist Mike Finnigan, guitarist George Marinelli, bassist Hutch Hutchinson, and drummer Ricky Fataar. She hit her mark on all three counts, a testament to her consistency as a stage performer and, no doubt, the fact that the group has been on the road since April.
Drawing from her recently released “Slipstream” album as well as her hitmaking material from 20 years ago, she opened with two of the new ones, in the same order they appear on the CD — “Used to Rule the World” and “Right Down the Line.” The latter is a remake of the ’80s Gerry Rafferty hit, realigned with a deep reggae groove; Raitt said that Rafferty passed away (January 4, 2011) before she had a chance to show him the new arrangement.
As demonstrated right away, and throughout the evening, Raitt, at 62, is still equipped with a voice that’s rough hewn and righteous, and often sounds as powerful as decades ago.
The crowdpleasers were plentiful — “Something to Talk About”; “Love Sneakin’ Up On You,” with Marinelli’s stinging solo; the boogey ‘n’ bounce of John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love”; the poignancy of “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” with Raitt seated on a stool, sans guitar; and “Have a Heart,” another tune built on light reggae rhythms.
While there were no letdowns, the momentum did slow a bit on some of the less familiar new tunes.
Two highlights came about midway through the 90-minute show. “Angel From Montgomery,” the John Prine song from Raitt’s 1974 “Streetlights” album, had her opening a cappella, letting singer-songwriter Maia Sharp (who led her own trio earlier in the evening) take some verses, and closing the tune with another instruments-free section focused on multi-voice harmonies.
Shortly later, keys man Finnigan took over, on soulful vocals and barn-burning B3 playing, for a rousing version of Ray Charles’ sassy “I’ve Got News for You,” a heavy dose of blues and jazz featuring one of Raitt’s most ambitious slide-guitar solos of the night. I’d vote to bring back Finnigan, leading his own band, for next year’s fest.
The Clearwater Jazz Holiday continues through Sunday; jazz fans will be particularly interested in Saturday’s lineup, topped by bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding and acclaimed vocalist Kurt Elling.