Monday, June 25, 2012

Tedeschi Trucks Band - Live - Everybody's Talkin'

Everybody's Talkin' is the second release by the husband and wife team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, and their fine band. This double live album delivers on the full promise of this musical marriage born of a real life family affair. Featured is the same band, production team, and the same combination of blues rock, R&B, and instrumental experimentation that won the band the Grammy for Best Blues Album last year for their debut platter, Revelator. The first thing I thought of on my inaugural listening was recollecting the amazing synergy of Delaney & Bramlett as they were joined on the road by Eric Clapton in England back in the late '60s. There is just as much talent and energy here, and some of the same indulgence, as well.

Clocking in at just around the two hour mark, this record fairly faithfully replicates the experience of a Tedeschi/Trucks show, and while it's a great document for their audience, it may be the case of a bit too much, too soon. As a single disc, they may have pulled off the best live record of 2012 - as a two record set, the material wears a little thin - depending on mostly cover tunes, some nuggets from each of their previous pasts, and three songs from their debut. Mind you, the playing and singing is uniformly fabulous across the board, but the inclusion of an overly long drum solo, and a couple of tunes in which Tedeschi surrenders some mic time leads me to believe that they may have given a little more than they needed. Another album's worth of new material before a live outing may have justified a double CD release, but the spreading out of so much material over such a large territory renders what could have been an absolute blinder of a live album into merely a very fine document of a band developing into what could be greatness.

This may come off as sacrilege to their fan base, but, I've spoken to several listeners who share this opinion and expect that this band could well grow into something much bigger than we've yet seen from the reigning King and Queen of the blues. One of the trade offs I seem to be seeing in this new era of artist self direction is the discipline and marketing expertise that could be delivered by a strong producer, and an experienced manager.

Everyone's Talkin' starts things off, and the band brings some panache to the Fred Neil tune that Harry Nilsson's original hit version never imagined. Oteil Burbridge's bass line gets things moving around the second verse, and Susan Tedeschi's always excellent vocals are nicely embellished by a small horn section, and some fervent background singers. Oteil's older brother Kofi lays into his B-3 soon after, and Derek Trucks tears off a casual little solo that is perfect - thick and creamily toned, well played, and soulful. A nice introduction of what's to come.

Trucks takes center stage next, and meditatively spins out a gorgeous three minute intro to Midnight In Harlem (Swamp Raga Intro with Little Martha) that is as suggestive of Ravi Shankar as it is to the memory of Duane Allman. The young Southerner is one of the truly ascending masters of the slide guitar - I've recently had the pleasure of spending time and speaking with slide masters Ry Cooder, and Sonny Landreth, and as I listen to Trucks I wonder what it may be that draws such soulful, thoughtful, and musical mystics to the slopes of the slide. George Harrison brought the art of melodic slide playing to the world of the electric guitar when faced with his immersion into Indian music and the arrival of chops heavy guitar-slingers like Clapton, Hendrix, Beck, and Page, and ever since, the best proponents of the art seem to bring as much to the table as beings as they do as musicians. Trucks is the youngest of the breed, and quite possibly alongside Sonny Landreth, the most highly developed of these slide masters. His meteoric rise over the last decade has been most amazing, but I dare say, and hope - his best playing may lay ahead for him.

Susan Tedeschi then takes the reins for a sultry stroll through this tune that helped propel the band's first album to #12 on the Billboard 200 charts last year. The band is unobtrusively supportive, but don't let that comment fool ya - they play with a casual ease that almost masks a level of virtuosity which matches the legacies of so many great Southern Rock bands. Trucks lays down another brilliant solo that simmers along for a bit before escalating into a boiling tribute to the modal melodicism of Dickey Betts - Derek's tones are very thick and filled with pure tube amp overdrive. He makes it sound effortless, but to control the amount of horsepower necessary to produce this tonal torrent with a slide is akin to riding bareback on a rocket ship. This is the rock and roll equivalent to sorcery, or brain surgery - and the doctor is in.

Super solid ensemble playing is the way of the day on Learn How To Love, and the band cuts a huge pathway for Tedeschi to show off her well honed vocal gymnastics. Hubby pops in for a solo that tightropes its way up and down the neck of his acclaimed Gibson SG as he masterfully navigates bottlenecking and string skipping single note fingerings. Saxophonist Kebbi Williams gives Trucks some of his own medicine, first blowing a fairly straight solo that brings to mind Traffic's late '60s spark before he ventures a ways outside and gets a bit harmolodic with it. They then break things down into another Trucks trip that builds and builds before Tedeschi steps up with some tasty guitar chops of her own, leading to a satisfying session of husband and wife trading eights. Thrilling stuff.

It's rather amazing that with eleven people sharing the stage, things never get muddled, or overly busy, but this band is not just playing, they're also listening to one another, and embellishing as they accompany each other. It's clearly Trucks' show as the band's main soloist, but there is a huge amount of interplay going on all the time. The band's two drummers (Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson) play like a well oiled machine, and are extremely complementary, as is bassist Oteil Burbridge and his keyboardist brother, Kofi. The horns are fantastic in their role - they bide their time, and when called upon, they flat out deliver, usually in a way that suggests a Soho jam session long after midnight.

Bound By Glory is another excellent tune off of the band's first release - Trucks brings it up to speed with a lovely bit of raga rock before Kofi Burbridge steps on the volume pedal of his Hammond B-3 organ, and leads the band into a tune that has classic stamped all over it. The organist takes the first solo that sees his bassist brother bouncing alongside enthusiastically until Trucks takes back the wheel, sending the band and the tune out to a sizzling conclusion.

A pleasant Bo Diddley beat rings in the blues standard, Rollin' and Tumblin' - it features more of the same outstanding playing, but it's something of a let down after the incredible head of steam the band has thus far built, and while this rendition is certainly a few steps ahead of what most bands could do with this tune, it is also a step behind what I expect from this crew. It's hell to hang out with greatness - it creates some very high demands and expectations!

Derek Trucks is so well immersed in Indian/Middle Eastern music that I feel pretty comfortable stating that he's steeped in it. Nobody's Free features yet more brilliant soloing that amply displays his affection and command for this idiom before he hands off to Kofi and his younger brother - the elder Burbridge brother takes his hands off his Hammond and uncorks a flute solo that is so incredible that you don't mind that it is a flute solo, while Oteil gives a lesson that shows why he has been the jam band/southern rock bassist of choice for the last few decades. Tedeschi's vocals are especially strong on this cut, as she reaches deep into her blues rock encyclopedia of chops and soul.

A gospel infused version of John Sebastion's Darling Be Home Soon gives the audience and the listener a chance to catch their breath, and enjoy the band in song mode. Even still, there is a relatively mindblowing solo from Trucks, and loads of inventive and interesting playing and singing.

Disc two of this package is where things slow down for me a bit. There's plenty of excellent playing and singing, but the tunes don't jump out at me with as much melodic oomph as I'd like, and honestly, I find the lengthy drum solo in the fifteen minute version of Stevie Wonder's Uptight to be a bit much without visual stimulus, or anything truly exceptional from the solo itself. When I recently saw the band, this tune was a high point, but it doesn't play as well for me with audio only. Chop the drum solo out, and maybe we have a different ending, but for me it weighs the whole thing down more than I would like.

Of course, at the amazingly low price of $10.88 (Amazon), one could say I have no place to complain, but I still think I might. I have been saying for several years that Derek Trucks is very close to becoming a much more significant artist than he already is - I have stated many times that I think he has an album in him that will completely overshadow what he has done so far. And, I think that by keeping this set to one CD, they may have actually ended up with a more impressive document. This is a fine, fine album, but again, I think some judicious chopping may have left them with a great listening experience from beginning to end which would have left us plenty sated, but still clamoring for more.

Tedeschi Trucks Band is one of the most powerful outfits filling theaters today - they've made an excellent second album, and I'm sure the best is yet to come. Stay tuned.

Special thanks to Michael Vernelle Lewis!

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