ROCK / In the nick of time

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The Independent Culture
SOMETIMES you want to beg the hired muscle to chuck them out. ' 'Cocaine', Eric]' ' 'Like a Rolling Stone', Bob]' ' 'Chelsea Morning', Joni]' But I swear I'd like to strike a medal for the fellow in the front stalls at Hammersmith Apollo on Wednesday night who cleared his lungs and bellowed ' 'Angel from Montgomery', Bonnie]' Thanks to him, we had something to remember.

Bonnie Raitt has been singing John Prine's sad, mysterious western ballad - the theme song to a novel that Cormac McCarthy hasn't got round to writing yet - for more than 20 years. She and the song have a history together, going back beyond the celebrity that descended upon her when Nick of Time, her 1989 debut for Capitol, scored four Grammys and upwards of 3 million sales, transforming a career that seemed to have been officially consigned to the folk clubs and the bargain bins.

On Wednesday, Raitt presented the front-stalls supplicant with 'Angel from Montgomery' as the penultimate encore, the 16th item in a 17-song concert. It would be too strong to say that it saved the evening, but it was certainly better late than never. For five minutes, the carefully weighted and textured arrangements that distinguish Nick of Time and its two equally fine successors, 1991's Luck of the Draw and the new Longing in their Hearts, were set aside in favour of something less highly wrought.

Like Eric Clapton, the 44-year-old Raitt is a white blues-guitarist and singer who found her true voice and mode of delivery in mid-life, at the point when all her enthusiasms and influences (and other people's well-intentioned ideas of how she should sound) had been worked through, and the only thing left was to write some good songs, borrow a few others, and relax. In the studio, Don Was's sensitive production adds the dimension that makes the songs work on the car radio. In concert, paradoxically, something less is required: the elaborate keyboard imitations of cellos and accordions diluted the music's essence.

Some of its essence came through, nevertheless, in her killer slide-playing on the low-riding 'Tangled and Dark' and the mature, mobile vocal phrasing of 'Love Me Like a Man'. She drew out the full redemptive power of Richard Thompson's 'Dimming of the Day' and Paul Brady's 'Not the Only One', and proved the strength of her own current songwriting with 'Feeling of Falling' and the beautifully poised 'Circle Dance'. And nobody else nowadays can sing an opening couplet like 'Turn down the lights, turn down the bed/Turn down these voices inside my head' (from 'I Can't Make You Love Me') with such graceful plainness, making you touch the sheets, see the shadows, feel the ache.

Don Was profile: Review, page 27.

(Photograph omitted)

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