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Bonnie Raitt Puts the Pedal to the Metal

AFTER 20 years of paying her dues in the music industry, Bonnie Raitt is finally getting a return on her investment. She's pulling huge audiences, grabbing headlines, and spending plenty of time smiling."Oh, man, I love my job," the radiant redhead told a sold-out concert crowd here at the Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts. Ms. Raitt's latest album, "Luck of the Draw," is continuing the momentum generated by her 1990 album "Nick of Time," which won three Grammy awards and has sold more than 3 million copies. The 15,000-strong crowd here included old and new fans alike. The oldtimers have either stuck it out through the singer's hard times or have come back to revel in her new-found success. Younger fans may be inclined to think "Luck of the Draw" is merely Raitt's second album. But her signature blend of pop ballads and blues dates back to 1971 and covers 11 albums. Despite a loyal following through the years, commercial success has eluded Raitt until last year's hit album. In the mid '80s, Raitt struggled with a drinking problem and a broken heart. Warner Bros. dropped her from the label in 1983. But she's turned those troubles around and transformed many of her low times into smoldering songs about growing older and wiser. Her success story includes gaining back her sobriety and signing with Capitol Records. As Raitt recently told Entertainment Weekly: "It's like I've become some living proof that there is justice in the world." The current concert tour is largely made up of tunes from Raitt's two recent blockbusters. Though much of her past work is left untouched, she seems to be well aware of the diverse group she now attracts. Toward the end of the concert here she reached back to her 1975 album "Home Plate." Raitt told the crowd, "If you know the lyrics, sing along. If you don't, grab somebody in front of you." Judging by the number who did sing along, those who've just discovered Bonnie lately were outnumbered at this particular concert. Raitt provided a striking contrast to the simple stage set. Her fiery hair stood out against a purple chiffon blouse and a sequin-covered black vest and tails that sparkled all night long. This musician's hard-won happiness was unmistakable. She married actor Michael O'Keefe last April, and he joined her on stage for the rowdy encore, "Hunk of Love." Raitt must have been born with a guitar in her hands, she's so at ease with the instrument. Throughout the concert here, she changed guitars every few songs. Raitt started the show by highlighting her sizzling slide-guitar abilities on "Sugar Momma." For "All at Once," she commandeered the keyboard. Her versatility and seasoned self-assurance overshadowed any adjustments she's still making to her new band. The group includes five new members, including the dynamic Debra Dobkin playing percussion and singing back-up. Ms. Dobkin is the first female member of Raitt's band. Guitarist Stephen Bruton stood out front with Raitt, leaving the rest of the band as back-up. Raitt seems content to sing her songs as honestly as ever and to bask in the sunshine of appreciative crowds. "I can't think about how many of you are out there," Raitt told the roaring fans here. But she carried on with unwavering confidence. As she is an activist committed to various causes, several hundred tickets for this concert sold for $125 each to help a local homeless shelter. Everyone attending the concert was encouraged to bring shampoo, toothpaste, and other toiletries to donate to the shelter. In addition, Raitt earmarked some of the proceeds to help environmental groups battling a local power company's plans to build a coal-burning plant.

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