Thursday, February 21, 2019

Album Review: The Tedeschi Trucks Band - Signs

The Tedeschi/Trucks Band’s extended family has been hit hard recently and keyboard player’s Kofi Burbridge’s death last week, on the day of the release of this record, is another brutal if not unexpected blow to one of the best American bands working today.

Their new album Signs has no doubt been informed by the successive passings of Butch Trucks, Gregg Allman and Col. Bruce Hampton as some of the more somber lyrics seem to suggest. But this album is not a funeral, it is an elegiac celebration of life, music and family, three concepts that are intertwined since the band’s inception.

The first thing that strikes the listener upon first listen is the convivial nature of the project. From the warmth of the sound to the relaxed atmosphere, this album feels more like an invitation than a commercial endeavour.  It feels and sounds like we have been welcomed into a home of music, where the members are free to lose themselves in their performances and play away with total abandon.

And even though it sounds like you are listening to fantastic versions of classic tunes, there are no covers here. All of the songs were written by the band members themselves, with some collaborations with similar-minded musicians like Warren Haynes and Doyle Bramhall II.

Everything about the record sounds real and authentic. Derek Trucks’ playing is as virtuosic as ever but always emotive, never intrusive. Susan Tedeschi’s voice is on par with some of the great rhythm and blues vocalists of the sixties. Mike Mattison is one of the best rock singers of the past twenty years, and the interplay between the two drummers is perfectly complementary.

The album starts off very strong with a dark soul number entitled Signs, High Times which features both voices of Susan Tedeschi and Mike Mattison, with the intensity building up thanks to the horns, organ and drum works. Derek Trucks’ solo ends the song in typical apotheotic fashion.

The second number I’m Gonna Be There is a down tempo gospel number with a smokey, swampy atmosphere, with strings and percussions adding tho the drama.

When Will I Begin is a melancholic ballad with otherworldly backing vocals, with a slide guitar solo building up a crescendo to a climactic release. 

Walk Through This Life  starts out as a mid-tempo funk reminiscent of some early seventies Stevie Wonder complete with  pulsating bass, horn section and an uplifting sing-along melody and ends ias a barn burning soul jam which unfortunately fades out before its resolution. This is probably one of those numbers that they can stretch out live for ten to fifteen minutes.

Strenghten What Remains is a short acoustic ballad with pensive minor chords and exquisite major lifts. The sound of the players’ fingers against the guitar strings add to the authenticity and the overall emotion of the recording. The song ends with a wonderfull orchestrated instrumental coda with strings and flute, suggesting that chamber pop and baroque psychedelia is also a part of this band’s vocabulary.

Still Your Mind opens with a dramatic piano melody, and progressively introduces the guitar, drums and bass who unite to deliver a cool, truculent riff. The sound quickly becomes very compact as more instruments enter and fill every available space. The verse is very reminiscent of Bound For Glory from their Revelator album. The chorus melody is maybe a little ham-fisted, but that’s a small complant. The guitar solo rips as usual and provides a welcome breather in an otherwise crowded, almost heavy atmosphere until the instrumental breakdown which ends the song on a more chiming note.

A more upbeat vibe propels Hard Case, a Soul/Rock number with rollicking slide guitar interventions, almost gang-like backing vocals and a neat keyboard solo.

Shame runs on a killer hard blues riff complemented by propulsive horn stabs until verse slows things down to showcase Susan’s voice. The chorus is almost heavy at times and harkens back to seventies blooze rock bands like Cactus and the like. The song then breaks down with almost psychedelic slide licks and builds up again slowly to roar again, then deflate again to end on a soft breather.

All The World is anotherr minor-key soul ballad with lots of space and a gospel chorus.

They Don’t Shine is a raucous boogie-rock with a  meaty riff and a honky-tonk melody, a Tamla-Motown chorus and a great guitar solo by Susan.

The album ends on a simple acoustic country ballad with a simple chord progression, great acoustic slide work and wonderful vocals that go from soft whispers to soulful cries, every tone nuance and vibrato in Susan’s captured on this very moving recording.

At under 47 minutes, this album is just the right length. This is the textbook example of a perfect record, where all the songs are flawless, all the performances are inspired and every note is at the exact right place. No filler, no fat, nothing superfluous or unnecessary but nothing missing either. The Tedeschi/Trucks Band keeps outdoing itself with each release.

I’ll be catching them in concert in a couple of months, which is where they truly shine. They will take those wonderful songs and play with them, twist and stretch them, tailor them differently to each venue. Then in a couple of years it will be time for another album, and once again the question will pose itself: how do you improve on perfection?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to comment on this post: