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'It's like running away with the circus'

Bonnie Raitt's super-group hits the road with a joyful, inspired jam

After many grueling years on the road as a headliner, Bonnie Raitt decided to give herself a present - a tour with her favorite fellow singer-songwriters - singing harmony and playing each others' songs as if they were just sitting around the living room.

Bonnie and her talented friends - Shawn Colvin, Bruce Hornsby, Jackson Browne, and multi-instrumentalist David Lindley - brought their living room to the Boston area last week, the first stop on their tour. And the packed house showed its appreciation for being invited to witness the inspired and soulful jam session with many standing ovations.

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"If you think we look happy, you're right!" Raitt exulted as she kicked off a delightfully ragged rendition of her hit "A Thing Called Love," trading scorching slide licks with David Lindley as Browne and Colvin supplied vocal harmony.

Throughout the show, Raitt was the proud mother hen, happily deflecting the audience's applause to the other performers and reminding us what a rare treat this was for all of them.

It was clear from the opening ensemble tune, Browne's infectious, reggae-flavored "Everywhere I Go," that this was a cohesive band, not just a collection of recording stars. Their songs, mined from the rich catalogues of these performers, who've all been around the hit block a time or two, made for a show without a single weak number. Not that the band was always tight - there were muffed endings and fumbled cues - but it only added to the evening's overall feeling of spontaneity.

Each star had an opportunity to sing both lead and harmony, play several different instruments, or even slip offstage for a number or two.

"It's like running away with the circus," Browne said. "We're leaving all the responsibilities and the hard-fought-for control that you have and giving it up to people [who] inspire you and challenge you."

The obvious joy in each other's company emanated from the stage and was the real highlight of the three-hour show.

The biggest surprise, among an evening full of surprises, was an enthralling performance by Hornsby, a piano stylist without peer in pop music and a soulful vocalist as well. His jaw-dropping piano intro to his 1986 hit, "The Way It Is," had the crowd cheering before the singing had even begun.

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Hornsby's moving, elegant songs continually raised the level of musicianship throughout the show. His versatility and touch on the piano were never more in evidence than on Raitt's show-stopping "I Can't Make You Love Me," where Hornsby's delicate lines and suspended chords perfectly complemented Raitt's sensitive, heartbreaking vocal - two masterful musicians at the top of their craft.

Colvin, the most recent of the five to find pop stardom with last year's surprise Grammy-winning "Sunny Came Home," was a delight on stage with her goofy body language and funny asides. But when it came to music, she demonstrated time and again why she belonged in this sterling company.

Her five songs, including a superb "Sunny" and "You and Mona Lisa," were among the most memorable of the evening. Her rhythm guitar was a driving force all night, and her harmony singing, especially in the duets with Raitt, was superb. She was typically self-effacing when she blurted out, "If anyone had told me 10 years ago that I'd ever be hangin' out with these guys...."

That fun of "hangin' out with these guys" was shared by folks on both sides of the curtain.

*Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Hornsby, Jackson Browne, Shawn Colvin, and David Lindley will tour together through September. Some dates include Sept. 4 in Raleigh, N.C.; Sept. 5 in Atlanta; Sept. 7 in Cincinnati; Sept. 9 in Chicago; Sept. 14 in Los Angeles; and Sept. 21 in Boise, Idaho.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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