Two wings of equal strength endow a bird with the capacity to truly soar. This principle also helps to explain why Revelator (Sony, 2011), the debut album of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, has soared to #1 for blues releases on Amazon, #2 in rock, and #3 in all of music. This band brings together vocalist Susan Tedeschi, whose previous release in 2009 earned her a Grammy nomination, with slide guitarist Derek Trucks, who won the Grammy for his 2009 release. What’s particularly striking in this pairing is how evenly matched these exceptional talents are.
Despite the critical and commercial success of Derek Trucks’ solo band, a New York Times reviewer once observed: “With such a talent leading the band, one can experience a vertiginous drop in interest when Mr. Trucks finishes his solos.” In contrast, with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Mr. and Mrs. Trucks are engaged in a compelling dialogue between equals. A musical conversation between two artists of this caliber always has the potential to be something special, but when the music clicks and the artists also happen to be soul mates, magic is revealed – love becomes sound.
Competition is what we tend to think of as a means of honing peoples’ talents, but the Tedeschi Trucks band reveals a more powerful motivator: inspiration. This union of one of the most remarkable blues voices of her generation with a slide guitarist renowned for his impeccable tone and highly lyrical playing, showcases the power of inspiration. Within a context of serving the music, Tedeschi’s and Trucks’ performances are a series of masterful exchanges in which they continuously build upon what the other has just done.
Susan Tedeschi’s consummate vocals are simply stunning, and while Derek Trucks’ solos aren’t exercises in shredding, there is tremendous power in his restraint. The subtlety and emotive quality to his playing mirrors her vocals, and like a finely tuned turbo charged sports car, when the need arises, both of them possess the ability to unleash a torrent of raw power. In my opinion, neither one of them has ever sounded better, and they both exhibit a newfound maturity and expressiveness — perhaps a function of the luxury of time together in their own studio.
To achieve their artistic vision the husband and wife team assembled nine other stellar musicians to form an 11 piece ensemble that not only celebrates delta blues, 60s rock, and 70s funk, but manages to fuse them into something fresh and exciting.
The ensemble includes a horn section with Maurice Brown, the jazz trumpeter known for his blending of be bop and hip hop, saxophonist Kebbi Williams who has a masters degree in jazz studies and deep musical roots – his uncle was an original member of the Commodores who wrote the hit songs “Brickhouse” and “Easy Like Sunday Morning,” and trombonist Saunders Sermons who has worked with artists as diverse as 50 Cent and Roy Hargrove. On drums there’s J.J. Johnson, best known for his work with John Mayer and Doyle Bramhall II, and Tyler Greenwell formerly with the Susan Tedeschi band and Col. Bruce Hampton. Mark Rivers and Mike Mattison sing background vocals, and rounding things out are the multi-talented Burbridge brothers, Oteil, the gifted bassist of Allman Brothers’ fame, and Kofi, a driving force with the Derek Trucks band, on keyboards (and flute.)
Because of the horn section, connections have been drawn to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Mike Bloomfield’s Electric Flag, and the original Blood, Sweat, and Tears with Al Kooper. However, I suspect Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Joe Cocker’s back up band on Mad Dogs and Englishmen (led by Leon Russell,) Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, and Donny Hathaway are where to look for primary influences.
Although Derek Trucks is only entering his 30s, he already has twenty plus years of touring behind him. Musically he’s an old soul who draws upon his considerable insight and appreciation of what’s gone before. In addition to writing and playing, Derek Trucks produced this album with Jim Scott (renowned for his engineering in the 80s and 90s, and his recent production work with Citizen Cope, Crowded House, a.m.m.) In the tradition of the late 60s and early 70s, the production is tastefully restrained in a way I suspect will allow this album to stand the test of time.
The music is original and solid throughout. There are some good songs, some very good songs, and a couple of magnificent songs. The opening track, “Come See About Me” is a good times blues rocker that Delaney & Bonnie would have felt at home performing. Right away a discerning listener is grateful that Derek Trucks has embraced the potential that the studio affords him. His acoustic steel slide establishes a delta vibe, and he also puts down a powerful electric slide solo that’s perfectly suited to this song. As a rule, Derek Trucks sounds unmistakably like Derek Trucks, but I suspect many Duane Allman fans will sense the spirit of Duane Allman’s “Standback” solo on “Come See About Me.” This is a very good track on many levels.
“Don’t Let Me Slide” slows things down with another powerful vocal and excellent guitar backing and solos. This song caused me to think of the very effective mix on the song “A Hundred and Ten in the Shade” on John Fogerty’s Blue Moon Swamp (Warner Brothers, 1997.) Bringing the background vocals, horns and flute up in the mix without the Clavinet, would have, in my opinion, enhanced “Don’t Let Me Slide.”
“Midnight in Harlem” by Mike Mattison and Derek Trucks is one of the magnificent songs. The song, production, arrangement, vocals, and guitar are perfect – this song literally gave me goose-bumps. It’s on a level with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On.”
“Bound for Glory” by Mike Mattison, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi is upbeat with a gospel feel. The extended ending fades with Susan belting out “bound for glory” around Derek’s searing guitar solo. “Simple Things” by G. Louris, Derek Trucks, and Susan Tedeschi is a finely crafted and powerfully sung ballad without the horn section. “Until You Remember” by John Leventhal (a song of the year Grammy winner who is married to Rosanne Cash), Susan Tedeschi, and Derek Trucks, is another moving ballad with a tremendous vocal.
“These Walls” by Eric Krasno, Sonya Kitchell, and Derek Trucks is another one of the truly magnificent songs on Revelator. If Son House and Joni Mitchell had a child and raised it in India, you could imagine that child growing up to write a song like this. A dreamy melancholy song with Alam Khan (son of Ali Akbar Khan) playing sarode, Eric Krasno on acoustic guitar, and Derek Trucks on guitar. Susan’s phrasing and expression are breathtaking, another extraordinary vocal.
“Learn How to Love” is a powerful blues rocker with a high energy vocal and guitar solo. The horn section appears in the credits, but even with headphones they are so far down in the mix that I had trouble hearing them — this song begs for a Juke Horns arrangement.
Live version with a more prominent horn arrangement
On the track “Love Has Something Else to Say” the organic sound of the band, joined by David Ryan Harris on guitar and vocals, is clearly on display. Here the horn section and background vocals are prominent in the mix. David, Derek, Susan, and Kebbi (on sax) trade some hot licks at the end of this fun track.
“Shelter” features a duet with Susan and David Ryan Harris, but don’t eject when the music stops, with a tip of the hat to George Martin and the Beatles, there is a hidden instrumental track called “Ghost Light” after an extended pause.
So what does Revelator reveal? A young band with a wealth of talent, a deep appreciation of the roots of American music, and a clear vision of where they want to go. This excellent debut album left me excited about the prospects of future releases, and confident that they will build upon what they’ve achieved in such a short time. Musically nothing stands in their way, their only limitation is material, and with 11 composers and a network of world class collaborators, the American musical tradition is in safe hands.