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(Sony Masterworks As broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/14/2013)
The personal dynamics of rock bands can be interesting. A lot of groups explode because of ego difficulties, and many of the stable bands tend to have a single personality who serves as the leader or principal creative force. Once in a while, band will come along who comprise performers who were previously known on their own, with the hope that the combined forces will increase musical creative power and presumably potential for commercial success. They used to be called supergroups, and sometimes they can be quite successful, for example Crosby, Stills and Nash. But in other cases, the musical differences inhibit the group to the point that it does not last very long.
This week we have a new CD from one of the most artistically and perhaps commercially successful if the current groups made up of previously independent artists. And the personal relationship between the main people is mitigated by the fact that the two principal members are married to each other. It's the new third CD by the Tedeschi Trucks Band called Made Up Mind.
Both Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks had successful individual careers before they started working together musically, and indeed before they married.
Susan Tedeschi was born in Massachusetts to a not-very-musical family, but did discover an old blues record in her father's collection at an early age, which got her started. She soon began performing at age 6 as a Broadway understudy, and began playing gigs in bands by age 13. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, she tood an interest in African-American Gospel while at school and became part of a Gospel choir. After graduating, she formed the Susan Tedeschi Band in 1994, inspired by some of the blues innovators like Buddy Guy and Magic Sam. She released her first album that same year and then began to attract attention nationally after her second CD Just Won't Burn in 1998. She continued to gain audiences and released a series of albums through the 2000s.
Derek Trucks was a rock and blues guitar prodigy. The nephew of Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks, the Florida native was performing with his own band at age 13. Known as a slide guitar specialist, it's interesting how he arrived at the style -- he was performing at an age where his fingers were too small to use all the guitar frets, so he started playing with a slide. He toured through his teens, completing most of his high-school studies with school lessons given on the road. Trucks is not a regular vocalist and his groups were often dominated by instrumental music. He was eventually offered one of the guitar positions with the Allman Brothers Band and also toured with Eric Clapton in 2006.
Tedeschi and Trucks married in 2001, but each kept their individual bands for almost ten years after that, collaborating on record only rarely. But in 2010, they decided to start working and touring together, setting aside their own groups and starting a new band that included Kofi Burbridge of the Allman Brothers Band and Tyler Greewell from Ms. Tedeschi's band.
The musical combination was a big success artistically and commercially. Their joint debut album Revelator won a Grammy award for Blues Album of the Year. And the group played quite a few high-profile gigs, including at the White House, where President Obama joined them on stage for a version of Sweet Home Chicago.
Last year, they released a live album called Everyboy's Talking, and now they are out with their new studio recording called Made Up Mind. It picks up where Revelator left off, with high quality performances that encapsulate both Ms. Tedeschi's and Mr. Trucks' strengths, Ms. Tedeschi as a fine vocalist who draws on her interest in soul and Gospel, and Trucks, the slide guitar whiz who often brings in some interesting jazz elements to the music. The band this time around is larger and includes some horn players.
The fairly generous 53-minute CD opens with a song that rather sums up the sound of the album. The title track Made Up Mind shows Ms. Tedeschi's Gospel influence combined with the blues setting. <<>>
The sound of Memphis soul with horns is also another recurring thread throughout this album. Do I Look Worried features the horn section <<>> while Trucks puts in a slide guitar solo. <<>>
In an interesting twist, there are a couple of largely acoustic tracks on this otherwise very electric album. One of those tunes is Idle Wind which also features Kofi Burbridge's flute. It can resemble some of the things the Allman Brothers have done along these lines. <<>>
The CD moves from the blues to more upbeat material. In the latter category is Part of Me which borrows heavily from the Memphis R&B sound. <<>>
Though the album is rather energetic in texture, there are a couple of ballads. Sweet and Low is one of the best, with clever lyrics to match. Though Ms. Tedeschi is known for her stong vocal work, he shines on this track. <<>>
While most of the tracks are written in the musically straightforward blues and soul styles, the CD features a somewhat more musically sophisticated tune. All That I Need is a very good piece of writing with an interesting multifaceted arrangement. <<>>
Derek Trucks is known for his great work with jam bands, both the Allman Brothers and his own previous group. The lengthiest track on the CD, The Storm gives him and the band a chance to stretch out, while Ms. Tedeschi pus in an especially strong vocal performance. <<>>
The CD ends with another very nice acoustic track, played on two guitars. Calling Out to You is an excellent way to conclude this very tasteful album. <<>>
Susan Tedeschi and her husband Derek Trucks, nine years her junior, have been married since 2001. It took them almost ten years to decide form a joint band, and once they did, their collaboration turned out to be more than the sum of the parts. Two fine blue-oriented players, with her strength primarily on vocals, though she is a worthy guitarist, and Derek Trucks one of most celebrated contemporary blues-rock slide guitarists with a first-rate supporting band to create a group that has been a runaway success, winning a Grammy on their debut recording together, and proving to be successful commercially. After a live album that captured the performance-oriented-nature of the group, they are out with a new studio recording that is as impressive as their debut together.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an "A." Producer-engineer Jim Scott, who is one of the best in the business for roots rock bands, was again enlisted and did his thing to capture the band's sound with both warth and clarity. Even the dynamic range, which in a hyper-compressed everything-superloud-all-the-time world, is better than one might expect with, for example, the drums having a good inpact.
Not all husband-wife groups are that successful artistically, but the Tedeschi Trucks Band, on their new release Made Up Mind shows that this family really plays together well.
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