The Tedeschi Trucks Band returns with its third studio album and first in three years and it’s finally the record that capitalizes on the promise this collective has had from the start. Produced by Derek Trucks alone for the first time, the material’s written in-house, and the band got down to business at its own studio. The result is a confident-sounding record never tries too hard and focuses on deep grooves with soulful lead vocals and lead guitar lines that at their best often seem gently torn from the heavens. This laid-back approach, not entirely dissimilar to the one heard on the best Black Crowes records or those that Chris Robinson has done with his Brotherhood, means that there’s no “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” approach; the tunes reveal themselves slowly as they would in jazz, blanketing the listener with a sweetness that some probably thought went out around the Ford administration.
And yet there’s still a strong song sensibility such as the Allman Brothers-tinged “Anyhow”, which opens the record and find Tedeschi channeling Gregg Allman in the tune’s opening moments while the rest of the clan works up a vibe that’s as good as anything Dickie, Duane and the boys ever got up to. Despite the undeniable connection to the Allmans, Susan Tedeschi and Trucks steer the music into fresher terrain, the former delivering one of her best vocal performances to date and the latter weaving magic here, there, and everywhere. Trucks is like Coltrane reborn with a guitar in his hand, a man gifted with an uncanny sense of melody, possessed by a kind of seeking that never lets him settle for anything less than the best. “Anyhow” also brings together two of the things the band does best: combine the beautiful colors of country and blues music with horns that are more influenced by the funky, the urban. It’s a rare meeting to be sure and one that serves that song well.
But the straight on funk of “Don’t Know What” is as dirty and lowdown as anyone could want and Tedeschi sounds fuller, more untethered than she has on past Tedeschi Trucks Band records, a singer who is equally at home performing a song that’s got mud on its knees and dirt under its fingers as she is the holy reaches of “Laugh About It”. While she and her husband continue to deliver the goods for the rest of the record, the band they lead also shines in a more favorable light than on past records. Kofi Burbidge’s deft keyboard touches are especially memorable on “Let Me Get By” as he casts us back several decades with a sound that is filled with both whimsy and soul; Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson anchor the rhythm section with solid drumming throughout and Tim Lefebvre knocks all kind of sense into the already sensible grooves throughout.
And the collective as a whole casts themselves back to the peak of rock ‘n’ soul from the Deep South with the eight-minute Philly soul of “Cryin’ Over You”, the sexy old style rave-up “I Want More”, and the closing “In Every Heart” which has a sad, mournful New Orleans-style intro that gives way to something more uplifting and something a little closer to, say Memphis. It, like so much of the record, seems destined to become a live favorite: Tedeschi as though this could be the last song she ever commits to tape and the band plays as though it’s been playing together since the beginning of time.
Past Tedeschi Trucks Band records had their charms and their high points but this is the record that gets everything right from the first note to the last and it’s a welcome progression from a band that deserves all the good things coming its way in the wake of this record.
A bonus disc with live tracks, early mixes and other, well, bonuses. But the main event is just as good as you could hope. Actually, better.