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Bonnie Raitt's Nine Lives Far From Over

Of the Oakland Press

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Bonnie Raitt tends to be a fixture on the summer touring circuit, especially when there’s new music to promote — in this case last fall’s “Souls Alike.”

So, not surprisingly, the blues-influenced singer, songwriter and guitarist has managed to create a bit of a survival methodology over the years.

“Physically you have to get used to this humidity and playing outdoors in the heat,” says Raitt, 56, whose fall tour in support of “Souls Alike” included a stop at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. “You gotta get in shape. We all have our bikes out on the tour and we’re riding every day for at least an hour; that really opens your pores up and gets your heart rate going.

“It’ll be, like, 90 degrees or more on stage under those lights, easily. And with this Indian blanket of hair, I’ve got to watch it ...”

Raitt, meanwhile, has given her fans plenty to watch, and listen to, since “Souls Alike” came out in September and debuted at No. 19 on the Billboard 200 chart. In addition to performing on albums by Stevie Wonder and India.Arie, she put together special minialbums for iTunes, XM and Sirius satellite radio, and for the syndicated “World Cafe” program. She joined forces with good pal and previous touring partner Lyle Lovett for a CMT “Crossroads” episode and welcomed Wonder as a guest for a concert special that aired on DirecTV and AOL.

She’s also turning her “Decades Rock Live” special — a tribute show that featured Norah Jones, Alison Krauss, Ben Harper and current tourmate Keb’ Mo’ — into an album and DVD coming out Aug. 15. Regardless, Raitt plans to issue her duet version of “Two Lights in the Nighttime” with Harper as a single.

“I basically have put out six or seven projects ancillary with this album,” notes the nine-time Grammy winner, who recorded the album in the wake of the deaths of both of her parents — her father was Broadway star John Raitt — and her brother’s battle with brain cancer. “We put it out and I haven’t stopped since.

“And we’re getting great response from it. I’m sure everybody says that when they talk about their record, but I was pleasantly surprised at the great reviews we got and how well the audience seems to like the songs.”

The material is growing and changing with each successive performance, she adds. The lead-off track, “I Will Not Be Broken,” she says, “has taken on an anthemic proportion. It has personal and political ramifications, and just to be able to mirror that back for the audience is very powerful.”

Another new song, “God Was in the Water,” also resonates deeper since the album’s release.

“I sing it every night and think about Mississippi and New Orleans and Alabama and my friends down there in the Gulf States,” Raitt says. “The words couldn’t be more prescient about that, even though we recorded that song way before Katrina.”

And even though Raitt feels “this is a concert tour, not a political rally tour,” “God Was in the Water” provides one of those moments when she lets her activist side come out.

“I do make some comments about our response to New Orleans — or the lack of response,” explains Raitt, a California native who’s been putting out records since 1971 and had a career renaissance with 1989’s Grammy-winning “Nick of Time” album. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. “That song is a constant reminder that we have an opportunity to do the right thing, and sometimes we’re not even paying attention.

“But I try not to proselytize too much from the stage.”

It’s not hard to fi nd out where her head’s at, however. Raitt, who was part of 2004’s John Kerry-supporting Vote For Change tour, has been roundly applauded for using environmentally friendly biodiesel fuel for her tour vehicles, and she continues to be a vocal proponent of the Green Highway ecological coalition.

“Certainly, my focus is to promote alternative energies like wind and solar to get us off this fossil fuel addiction,” she explains. “But the front burner for me, of course, is the war. We’ve got to do something to have a constructive and wise plan to pull our troops out and get out of that quagmire.

“Again, I don’t use my concert stage as a bully pulpit; I think by this point people generally know where I stand on things.”

And, Raitt promises, she still stands for putting on a good show above and beyond anything else.

“Things evolve and change with this band,” she says. “I want to mix it up a little bit, and move stuff around the set and pull things out of the hat that I haven’t played in a long time. (Keb’ Mo’) and I do stuff together, too.

“A lot depends on the spirit of the audience and, frankly, sometimes the heat will change what kind of grooves you stay in. It’s really spontaneous; that’s the only way I know how to do it, really.”

Bonnie Raitt and Keb' Mo' perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday (July 12th) at the Meadow Brook Music Festival on the campus of Oakland University, Rochester Hills. Tickets are $59.50 pavilion, $20 lawn; children under 12 get in free with a ticket-holding adult. Ca

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