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Raitt gives the blues a personal touch

Bonnie Raitt's music is steeped in the traditions and emotions of the South, but as the blues singer and slide guitarist reminded the audience at the Bank of America Pavilion on Sunday night, her heart lies in the city where she began her career 18 albums and nine Grammy awards ago: Cambridge.

``It's a spiritual home for me," she said. ``I could live here again in a second."

The California native, slender and wearing tight jeans at 57, had a tomboy girlishness about her, and her voice was sweet and strong. She did a lot of reminiscing between songs, and her rock 'n' roll spirit was evident. Yet time, particularly the recent death of her parents, has left its mark.

Raitt and her seasoned band kicked off with Junior Walker's lively ``(I'm a) Road Runner." But Randall Bramblett's ``God Was in the Water," which Raitt dedicated to the people of New Orleans (and recorded on her fall release ``Souls Alike"), was more indicative of the set's mellow mood and theme of kinship.

New Orleans-based keyboard player Jon Cleary led several songs, tapping out tinkling honky- tonk or heady boogie-woogie piano runs. He also duetted with Raitt to mixed effect: Cleary's ``Unnecessarily Mercenary" was fiery, but Michael McDonald's ``Matters of the Heart" was dreary.

An old Boston pal, blues harp player Jim Fitting (of Treat Her Right), joined Raitt on several songs, and a newer musical soulmate, the tour's opening artist, pop bluesman Keb' Mo', came on for the encore, which included a raunchy run-through of Wilson Picket's R&B classic ``634-5789 (Soulsville, USA). "

But the most moving moment came earlier, when Raitt dedicated her song ``Nick of Time" to her parents, adding, ``as I do every night now." She allowed the soul ballad's line ``I see my folks, they're getting old" to fall slowly from her lips, her pauses adding great emotional weight.

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