People are hungry for a good song—a verse and a chorus you can count on, but with something different about it too. The same old pop formulas can wear you out after a while. The familiar and the surprising, in perfect balance: that’s a holy grail for any endeavor.
Here’s another perfect balance: Susan Tedeschi, whose soulful voice can handle blues and ballads with equal, rich ease, and Derek Trucks, her husband and certainly the best slide guitar player on the scene. Both have been leading separate bands during the first ten years of their marriage. But now the couple has joined forces, writing together and melding their groups into a single, 11-piece all-star band. The first recording by the Tedeschi Trucks Band blends wonderful, natural performances with great songs. Ideal balance.
Revelator is outstanding in the extreme.
Just listen to how classic yet fresh is the song “Until You Remember”. From the opening horn chorale to the super-quiet slow-burn verse to the stately piano chords on the chorus, this is a song with a purpose. Tedeschi’s vocal is completely under control but also huge—open-throated, crying, proud. Trucks’ slide solo sounds utterly vocal, bending and moaning even more than Tedeschi. And as the two mix sounds on the out-chorus, well, it’s sublime.
“Midnight in Harlem” rings like another classic. It starts off with a relaxed soul vamp, over which peeks just the sly grin of buzzing slide guitar, then a tasty organ lick. Nice. Techeschi’s rich cabernet voice kicks in. She handles the beautiful melody in such a cool, unrushed manner, owning it but never pushing to hard.
More uptempo numbers also score. “Come See About Me” might suggest Motown, but it’s a rockin’ original with a swamp groove that percolates with clavinet, guitar and horns. The slide lick that links the tune together is irresistible, and the pulse set up by bassist Oteil Burbridge and twin drummers J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell is rock solid. “Love Has Something Else to Say” rides above a super-syncopated Latin groove, with the horns interacting with the soulfully harmonized vocals.
Everything is in place on Revelator. Kofi Burbridge’s keyboards are pitch-perfect in every small spot: a simple organ lick, a bed of Wurlitzer shimmer, the concert hall echo of acoustic piano. Background vocals around Tedeschi are sparingly used, but the duet elements of “Shelter” are a critical change of pace. Trucks never whips out his guitar prowess indulgently, instead choosing to serve every song, individually.
This is so true that it’s hard to believe that Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi are darlings of the jam band scene. Though it combines players from both leaders’ bands, this new group plays like a crack studio band with heart. On the one hand, these tunes are handcrafted like perfect miniatures, but on the other hand, these players have the instincts and the chops to craft solos that really tell a story.
So, “Bound for Glory” is basically a blues built on a sneaky organ lick and killer horn punches that launch Tedeschi into her lyric. While Trucks’ first guitar solo is only 15 seconds long, the out-chorus gives him nearly two minutes in which to develop his ideas and play them against the soulful bed of the rest of the band. His wife is working in some stuff as well and, sure, it’s maybe just a little jam-bandy. In a good way. “Ball and Chain” is a mid-tempo rocker that features some of the best singing on the disc, and it’s easy to see how the slide solo here would normally open up to something longer.
Repeated listenings to Revelator simply reveal more layers. Susan Tedeschi’s vocal performances are nuanced and rich. The groove on every song bubbles and feels funky without getting cluttered. As “pop music” goes, it is a serious gumbo. The horn parts and background singers add polish but don’t suggest that this is a band that will play it safe out on the road—you want to hear the songs again, and more of them.
Revelator, as much as anything, makes you wonder why the Tedeschi Trucks Band took so long to come together. Susan Tedeschi’s six-album career has been terrific but always just one star away from stellar. And the Derek Trucks Band had a tendency, perhaps, to feel too much like the Allman Brothers or too much like a “Man, you’ve gotta hear ‘em live” kind of band. Though they have toured together before and guested on each other’s discs plenty, this true collaboration brings it all together. Trucks is less of a Pure Player here than he is a bandleader, and Tedeschi seems less like a Great Voice than someone who is crafting memorable original songs just for your ears.
So here it is: your summer soundtrack. The weather is starting to sizzle, and everything feels just a bit looser. Your backyard grill needs using, and your car window should be down. What’s going to come flowing out of your yard or your ride—whatever the radio is playing? Or, better: this fusion of loose-limbed rock and syncopated, funky blues. Never indulgent, impeccably crafted, but also free as a long-long day in early July, Revelator is a joy.
// Notes from the Road
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