Tedeschi Trucks Band: “Revelator”
There are eleven musicians who play in the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and if you don’t believe me, just look at their album cover; there they are, lined up and ready to be counted. I feel this is worth mentioning because, just by listening to the music, you wouldn’t necessarily think there were so many players in the ensemble. And I mean that as a very good thing. As the debut recording from this troupe, which consists of one knockout blues singer, one honorary Allman Brother and universally-heralded slide guitar deity, and nine supporting cast members, including two drummers and a horn section, this could well have turned into an album of interminable “jam band” tedium, or little more than an excuse for one indulgent solo after another. Imagine my surprise, and my delight, to find that, while the record is stacked with great performances, there really aren’t a lot of extended solos. There are simply a lot of great songs– the perfect foundation for this new unit, and, I hope, the first of many (official) joint outings for Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks.
If the emphasis on songs over jamming seems surprising, I should hasten to add that Revelator is not a sparse or close-to-the-bone affair, and has really nothing at all in common with the Gillian Welch album of the same name. That album is hauntingly spare. This one is thick, heady Dixie funk with hearty doses of gospel, blues, New Orleans line music, and Southern (Allman-esque, I suppose) rock. It is nothing if not generous, heavily saturated with authentic emotion and yes, fiery performances. It’s the first time the two principles– a husband/wife team who have guested on each other’s fine solo albums many times before– have ever released an album under the Tedeschi Trucks umbrella, and they invest a lot of passion and effort into making this a launching point for the band as a band; the chemistry of their playing and the high quality of the songs themselves are important. That said, the band members flesh out this sound without drawing attention to their own chops; it’s something of a platform for Tedeschi’s voice, but only because she’s really carrying the heart of these songs.
Their official on-record union has much in common with previous Tedeschi and Trucks albums, of course. In fact, if there’s a disappointment to be found here, it’s in the fact that Revelator mostly avoids some of the more interesting or out-there quirks of the best Derek Trucks albums, largely avoiding, for instance, the African and Indian influences that flavored Songlines. (There is a bit of an Eastern, psychedelic swirl to “These Walls.”) The album is more directly linked to Tedeschi’s wonderful Back to the River (maybe her best solo album) and the Derek Trucks Band album Already Free (which wasn’t bad at all). It’s all about the simmering grooves, the powerhouse vocals, and the Southern-fried grit.
Tedeschi, of course, knocks it out of the park, over and over again, both as a singer and a songwriter. She has love and domesticity on her mind, and these songs tackle romance and family life with alternating perspectives of gratitude and, at least in the wrenching “These Walls,” some despair. They are soulful, hopeful, and sweet, and Tedeschi makes their emotional truths connect. She proves more than capable of bringing sultry, swampy seduction to opener “Come See About Me” and the drawling “Don’t Let Me Slide,” but she really steals the show on “Love Has Something Else to Say,” where she not only brings the swagger to a thoroughly excellent Stax groove but also steals some of Trucks’ thunder by shredding through her own, full-on rock and roll guitar solo.
But the band brings grace notes and winning flourishes all over the place. They introduce “Until You Remember” with New Orleans horn fanfare, and they provide supple support to the shimmering, bluesy gospel of “Don’t Let Me Slide.” On “Simple Things,” they show restraint that’s amazing; it’s a shimmering, B-3 groove that isn’t exactly minimal but is certainly light in its touch, maybe the best example here of how this eleven-piece puts aside their egos and overcomes sheer volume to really serve the song. And the best thing here, on every level, is a wonderfully propulsive, spirited groove called “Bound for Glory,” which is gospel both in its title and in its sound; its spiked horns and incredible hook make it the album standout.
But of course everything here is smokin’ hot, and each of the eleven members prove their worth to the ensemble; indeed, as much as it may be tempting to focus on the two bandleaders, they rise and fall as a unit, and Revelator is a win for everyone involved. The hope, then, is that it doesn’t turn out to be a platform for further elevating Tedeschi and Trucks, but rather that it proves to be a platform on which many more Tedeschi Trucks Band outings can be built.