Revelator

Tedeschi Trucks Band

Sony Masterworks, 2011

http://www.tedeschitrucksband.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/09/2011

I always thought an album like this could be wonderful. 

Susan Tedeschi with her rich, smoky, rangy Bonnie Raitt/Janis Joplin voice; Derek Trucks with his impossibly expressive slide guitar virtuosity, formally combining what’s been known in previous informal incarnations as the Soul Stew Revival – an ensemble made up of members of both of their solo bands that delivers a potent gumbo of Delta blues, Memphis soul, Sixties rock and Seventies funk.

I always thought an album like this could be wonderful – I just couldn’t imagine quite how wonderful.

It’s not often that an album lands on my desk with high expectations, and immediately exceeds them.  There isn’t a single thing about Revelator that I would change.  It might not get a lot of commercial airplay, to be sure—it’s purposefully un-slick in just about every way.  What it is, is authentic American music with heart and soul that is performed with tremendous skill without ever feeling the least bit studied or artificial.  It feels completely organic, like they made these tunes up the day they recorded them, except upon closer examination you know that can’t be true, because they’re far too intricate and beautifully arranged.  It’s as though they managed to tap into and channel a timeless musical voice that was just waiting for them to come along.

Before we get into the details, though, a little history is in order.  Trying out the theory that “the family that plays together, stays together,” in 2010 husband and wife Trucks and Tedeschi took the unprecedented step of not just touring together (which they had on occasion done before) but merging their bands, with Trucks as lead guitarist and co-producer, Tedeschi taking the lead vocal slot, and members of both of their bands—including Derek Trucks Band lead vocalist Mike Mattison—taking on support roles.  The end result is a world-class roots-music orchestra, 11 people strong with two drummers, three horn players and two harmony vocalists.

The fact that both Tedeschi and Trucks received Grammy nominations for Best Contemporary Blues Album for their 2009 discs, Tedeschi’s Back To The River and Trucks’ Already Free, gives some indication as to the esteem in which this pair was already held by their peers.  Merging forces to simplify their family life and amplify their shared affection for a sort of jazzy, jam-filled, groove-based contemporary blues guaranteed high expectations—which this album surpasses again and again.

Tedeschi and Trucks obviously have a lot in common, but what comes through strongest in the context of a full album working as a musical unit is that they share a musical sweet spot—expressions of joy and sorrow, the two extremes that form the emotional fulcrum of the blues. From that focal point, they add a superb backing band and a full horn section that extends even further the emotional range and palette of their music.

Opener “Come See About Me” features both principals’ guitar playing, as Tedeschi offers a honking little blues solo that forms the foundation for Trucks to come soaring in over the top with his slide, doing his trademark “singing” with his guitar. The juxtaposition of their two voices—hers natural, his electric—is remarkable and immediately compelling. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Midnight In Harlem” is a Trucks-Mattison co-write from Derek Trucks Band days, and one of the highlights of this album.  It starts out as a slumbering, melancholy blues with a gentle backbeat and warm vocals from Tedeschi.  Halfway in, Trucks lets loose with an absolutely stunning two-plus minute solo that is a pure thing of beauty, and then the organ starts to build behind it and it turns into a full band jam with the horns coming in behind as it passes the 5:20 mark, before fading into a quick denouement.  It’s the sort of musical journey you just can’t possibly pack into a three-minute pop song, and it transports.

“Come See About Me” and “Bound For Glory” are both cases where Trucks and Tedeschi seem to have borrowed familiar phrases and created their own songs around them, adding to the timeless quality of their music.  The often-sassy “Bound For Glory” also offers Tedeschi a chance to channel her inner Aretha, wailing through the final third of the song in gorgeous counterpoint to Trucks’ lyrical soloing. 

The gospel influence becomes even more evident on the call-and-answer chorus of “Simple Things” and the slow, steady uplift of “Until You Remember.”  Then “Ball And Chain” reminds you that the blues can be funny, too , with its chorus of “I’m so lucky / Pride and joy / Ball and chain / They’re one and the same”  “These Walls” brings in Eastern flavor courtesy of an intro by guests Saler Nader on tabla and  Alam Khan on sarode, which is basically a swamp blues instrument, just from a swamp on the other side of the world. 

After those quieter tunes, “Learn How To Love” brings on the funk full force, as Trucks delivers a different, darker voicing of his “singing” guitar that is just as effective and expressive as his normal, more painterly style.  The entire song has a kind of deep swamp-funk blues vibe, with longtime DTB keyboardist Kofi Burbridge featured on clavinet, Wurlitzer and Hammond.  “Shrimp And Grits” is a delicious little interlude, stripped down to the core sextet with Tedeschi and Trucks dueting on guitar, sans vocals.

“Love Has Something Else To Say” makes for a rousing penultimate cut, a heavy soul-funk number with greasy guitar, trumpet counterpoints and Tedeschi and the deep-voiced Mattison trading soulful lead vocals.  Four and a half minutes in there’s a wild, funked-up jam with both guitars and the horn section playing off each other like a blues-rock symphony.  Gentle closer “Shelter” again has that sort of timeless feel to the melody, a very nice, uplifting tune that features co-writer David Ryan Harris harmonizing with Tedeschi.  At the very end lurks a hidden track called “Ghost Light,” another smoldering little instrumental jam.

Another notable development here is that, while both principals have been known to take on a well-chosen cover or two (notably, Tedeschi’s stellar take on Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”), on this album they deliver an album’s worth of self-penned tracks and really flex their compositional muscles, with help from some notable guests.  Gary Louris of the Jayhawks co-writes two tracks, and Doyle Bramhall, John Leventhal, and Harris each co-write a cut with Trucks and Tedeschi.  What speaks to the consummate taste and ability of all of the above, and the band itself, is that these original songs sound like timeless classics, like songs that could have been written 30 or 40 or 50 years ago.  They are clearly the work of individuals who know and love American roots music in a deep, deep way. 

In the end, the pairing of Tedeschi, Trucks and their two bands is nothing short of inspired.  Tedeschi delivers the vocal performance of her career here, strong and soulful one minute, tender and understated the next.  Beyond even his exceptional soloing, Trucks has a way of adding little notes in the open spaces that function like filigrees on a fine piece of furniture, never flashy, just remarkable little splashes of sound and texture etched into the spaces between his wife’s words. 

Album of the year?  We’ll see—it’s definitely on the short list, and it’s only June.

Rating: A

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