Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tedeschi Trucks Band "Everybody's Talkin'

Half way through the opening Everybody’s Talkin’ someone unfamiliar with Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and the Tedeschi Trucks Band might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Their debut album Revelator had taken out the 2012 Grammy for Best Blues Album, which says something, and was described as a masterpiece in Rolling Stone, which doesn’t exactly have the critical clout it once enjoyed.

So what’s all the fuss about?

If that’s the reaction, and you’re thinking the Nilsson cover’s a routine workout through a song that hasn’t quite been done to death but isn’t far away from that status, if you haven’t reached the tasty solo from Mr Trucks that kicks in around the three minute mark, shuffle forward to the Swamp Raga intro to Midnight in Harlem, and things become much clearer.

Let things run through to the end of the trademark Trucks solo that concludes the number and you may well be convinced, if not, leave things in place into the growling guitar intro and blasts from the three-piece brass section that kick off Learn How to Love and we’re just about in I rest my case territory.

You might think that’s a little extravagant, and when you’re talking an eleven-piece touring outfit musical extravaganzas are definitely on the cards, but when you start with Derek Trucks, one of the best slide guitarists going around, and throw in his missus, Grammy-winner in her own right Susan Tedeschi, you’re probably guaranteed something reasonably classy from the word go.

Just how classy (assuming Midnight in Harlem hasn’t blown you away) becomes obvious as Learn How to Love veers off into an instrumental break that has both guitars firing off each other, riffing in with Oteil Burbridge’s bass lines and punctuated by that brass section and...

There’s plenty of light and shade possible with all those elements, and as Bound for Glory kicks off I’m reminded of the old adage about what you leave out being as important as what you actually play. Around the four minute mark everybody else drops out as the Burbridge brothers step to the fore. Kofi on keys, Oteil on bass with the rest of the band gradually sneaking back in over the next couple of minutes. 6:30 in and there’s a swell of acknowledgement from the crowd that leads into a Derek Trucks solo that builds past the nine minute mark before his missus is back with the vocal line, Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers harmonising in the background, and there’s still close to three minutes to go. That’s enough time for Mr Trucks to sneak back in for another little shredding solo before the track reaches a triumphal conclusion.

So we’re not talking the old three or four minute routine here, folks. Everybody's Talkin' runs to five and a half, Midnight In Harlem a tad after ten and a half, Learn How to Love about a minute shorter, and close to thirteen for Bound For Glory.

Even the shortest track, an interesting reading of the old Muddy Waters Rollin' and Tumblin' clocks in just under five. Around ten and a half minutes of Nobody's Free gives Susan Tedeschi a chance to give an impressive set of pipes a thorough working over, as does Darling Be Home Soon. Until I heard this reading I didn’t realise it was a case of not being able to wait an extra minute if you dawdled and waiting since you toddled/For the great relief of having you to talk to.

That’s enunciation alongside soul, folks. Going back to the Lovin’ Spoonful original and the Joe Cocker cover and you realise, yes, it is dawdled and toddled and scratch your head wondering why you didn’t notice that before.

There’s not much question about the lie of the land in the band’s cover of Bobby Bland’s That Did It either, as Susan lays down the law. She did a great take on this one during the Allman Brothers’ Beacon run in 2011 and it has become a TTB staple as well. Take a listen and it’s obvious why that has happened.

From there we’ve got a fifteen and a half minute romp through Stevie Wonder’s Uptight, and eleven minutes of Revelator’s Love Has Something Else To Say, with Bill Withers’ Kissing My Love inserted before Wade in the Water concludes proceedings.

Those track times indicate plenty of jam-style interaction, but the thing that stands out (at least it does to this listener) is the understatement and taste that goes into the soloing and as someone hits the spotlight the rest of the band slots in totally simpatico. Classy stuff.

If you’re familiar with his playing, of course, you might be looking for a bit more Derek action, but this is an outfit that has been carefully put together with attention to detail, room for the individuals and egos are definitely parked outside the door on the way in.

As it is, there’s a generous helping of Derek, but where he had to carry most of the spotlight in the old five or six piece Derek Trucks Band, this time around he has a more than capable second guitar foil in the shape of Susan, additional light and shade in the shape of Kofi Burbridge’s keys and flute, a mighty fine horn section, a rhythm section that really cooks (well, you’d expect that with Oteil Burbridge on bass and a two man drumming department), a fine singer, two classy backing vocalists and Oteil to take the odd turn at the microphone.

When you look at it that way, there’s not going to be the same guitar dominance we came to expect through the old DTB era, but get that line up on stage and cooking and the result, as anyone who has seen the Tedeschi Trucks Band live will know, is a rich mix of musical influences, given room to interact as an ensemble of fine musicians interact.

The attention to detail that’s evident throughout extends to the recording process. Where other outfits might have been happy to record one or two shows and cull from there to get their album, Derek (in this interview) reveals they started by carrying our own console along and getting an extra trailer with a couple guys to run it, recording a round dozen shoes and ended up using three of the shows pretty evenly, three or four tunes from each. And then we spent time listening and mixing to be sure it felt seamless from track to track.

The result is, arguably, the best live recording I’ve heard since, well, the Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East or The Band's Rock of Ages, a big band tour de force heavy on electric delta blues with side trips into the realms of funk, gospel, jazz and world music.

A definite five stars, and a hard act to follow, but if anyone’s going to manage it, this is the outfit to do so.

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