Blues fans have been awaiting a collaboration between soul singer Susan Tedeschi and blues guitarist Derek Trucks ever since the pair got married in 2001. Each possesses a beautifully honed talent, and, upon hearing of their plans to hit the road together, fans of each have begun to detect the quiet ticking of pure musical dynamite.
Derek Trucks is a blues version of the NBA’s Lebron James— a slide-guitar prodigy who plays like the legendary Duane Allman. Trucks, now 28, was already sitting in with the Allman Brothers in his teens (he’s the nephew of the band’s longtime drummer, Butch Trucks), and he joined the group in 1999 at the tender age of 20. That same year, he bailed out Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, stepping in as a last-minute replacement guitarist for the legend’s fall tour. Tedeschi, 36, was already a rising blues star in her own right when she met Trucks in 1999. Her vocals contain a bluesy soul that your average American Idol contender can only dream of possessing.
Together at last and on tour, Trucks and Tedeschi hit the Fillmore with a group of superb musicians: Trucks’ band, Tedeschi’s saxophonist, and (an up-and-comer in his own right) Trucks’ 18-year-old brother, Duane, on the second drum kit. From the moment the band hit the stage and Tedeschi sang her first note, it was apparent that this collaboration has something special going on. Tedeschi commanded the stage from the get-go with down-to-earth beauty and charisma, while Trucks’ incendiary guitar playing got jaws dropping.
While The Soul Stew Revival’s repertoire was primarily drawn from the artists’ individual catalogues, it also included a number of well-chosen blues classics. The band opened with “I Wish I Knew,” a mid-tempo showcase for Tedeschi’s smoky vocals that featured a flute solo by keyboardist Kofi Burbridge and great sax work by Ron Holloway. The band revved up by the end of the tune, as Trucks, bassist Todd Smallie, drummers Yonrico Scott and Duane Trucks, and percussionist Count M’Butu—all synched from the start—kicked things into high gear.
“Little by Little” started off as a standard blues shuffle, then turned into a showcase for Trucks’ Duane Allman-caliber genius. Things really started to heat up when the band threw down “Tell the Truth” from Eric Clapton’s 1970 “Derek and the Dominoes” album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs—an all-time classic that, appropriately, featured Duane Allman on slide guitar. Vocalist Mike Mattison, from Trucks’ touring band as well as opening act Scrapomatic, contributed his own deeply soulful vocals as he and Tedeschi traded verses, each knocking out his fair share of rich harmonies. Trucks, meanwhile, shined on his own, dropping inspired slide-guitar fills throughout the song. The energy was palpable.
Tedeschi and Trucks performed Robert Johnson’s “Walking Blues” as an acoustic duo, conjuring the image of Tedeschi living in a past life as part of Johnson’s entourage. Likewise, on Howling Wolf’s “Meet Me in the Bottom,” Tedeschi continued to belt it out while Trucks’ slide playing evoked the feel of a bygone era that belied his youthful looks.
Explosive blues rocker “Coming Home”—another Clapton tune— brought the whole band together again. Tedeschi and Mattison’s harmonies stayed close to the song’s original form, while the rhythm section surged with energy, and Trucks unleashed absolutely scintillating fretwork.
With the crowd in the palm of its hand, the band launched into jazz standard “My Favorite Things.” Tedeschi stepped away form the stage, leaving the musicians to mimic the John Coltrane version of the song before exploding into another tremendously high-powered jam. Trucks demonstrated that his chops go well beyond the blues, while Burbridge offered more stellar flute work.
Tedeschi returned to lead the band through Stevie Wonder’s “Sugar,” a funky soul groove that gave her a chance to shine like the soul supernova that she is. As things began to wind down, Trucks approached Tedeschi and led the unit in a stop-on-a-dime swing into Wonder’s “Do Yourself a Favor”—a down-and-dirty funk jam with political overtones: “Do yourself a favor/ Educate your mind/ Get yourself together/ Hey there ain’t much time.” Tedeschi and Mattison traded bluesy vocals, Burbridge threw down a killer electric piano solo, and Trucks took over to lead yet another turbo-charged jam.
The Soul Stew Revival was riding a serious wave now, hot off of four straight monster jams. The band took a well-deserved breather, then returned to close the set with “The Feeling Music Brings,” a feel-good original that ended the set triumphantly.
Tedeschi started the encore off with a solo version of Ray LaMontagne’s “Shelter.” The band came back for “Gonna Move.” It would have been a night to remember if they’d ended the show right there, but in a move to push the show ridiculously over the top, the band dipped back into the Eric Clapton/Duane Allman/Derek and the Dominoes bag with “Anyday”—one of the great romantic rockers of all time. The Fillmore roof was raised yet again as the band jammed on and on.
This was quite simply as good as blues rock gets in 2007. The hooting and hollering between songs was reminiscent of past Fillmore shows by blues legends like Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker—a testament to the true talent and authenticity possessed by both Trucks and Tedeschi. If your soul isn’t revived by this band, either you’re not really into the blues, or it’s time to check your pulse.