On 15 February, at the first gig to mark the launch of their fourth studio album, Signs, all 12 members of the Florida-based Tedeschi Trucks Band (TTB) wore black. News had just come in that their long-time keyboardist and flautist, Kofi Burbridge, who had been suffering from a heart-related ailment, had died at 57. But the band soldiered on. That evening at Washington, DC’s Warner Theatre, TTB began by performing nearly every song on their new album.
In the beginning, the mood was subdued, but soon things picked up. By the time they had got to the middle of the gig, it was a delight. The core of the band, one of contemporary blues rock’s finest, is the married couple, singer Susan Tedeschi and guitarist Derek Trucks. Both are talented musicians who complement each other perfectly.
Tedeschi, 48, is an impassioned blues singer, and Trucks, 39, is a phenomenal guitarist, particularly magical when he plays the slide guitar. Each of them had a successful solo career—Trucks had also been part of the Allman Brothers Band since he was 20, till that storied group disbanded—but they decided to form their own band in 2010. Since then, there have been four albums, Signs being the latest. They also have an itinerant tour schedule—often clocking 200 gigs or more a year. In 2012, their album Revelator won the Grammy for Best Blues album. They make fine records—all four of the full-length studio recordings are great, Signs included.
Most fans of the band will admit however, that TTB’s live shows are the ones to die for, particularly because of the extended instrumental solos, chiefly by Trucks on his guitar but also the rest of the band, which includes two drummers, a sax player, a trombonist, trumpeters, a bassist and harmony singers.
TTB’s music may be rooted in Americana and the blues but their sound is expansive. The 15 February show was a stunner. In this hyper-connected world, you can look for a recording on the Internet Archive (Archive.org), a non-profit repository of free music, movies, books and so on, and stream it legally.
Signs is marked by a series of sad losses that have affected the band over the past couple of years. Trucks’ uncle, Butch Trucks, a founding member and drummer of the Allman Brothers Band, committed suicide; Col. Bruce Hampton, a southern rock guru and mentor for the two, died while performing at his 70th birthday concert where Trucks and Tedeschi also played; and musician Gregg Allman also died due to complications from liver cancer. These have left their imprint on the 11 songs that make up Signs.
Yet Signs is not a sad album; its songs are bittersweet but also uplifting. And the chemistry between Tedeschi (her full-bodied vocals are a treat for the ears) and Truck’s guitar is at its best. Tedeschi and Trucks met at a gig in 1999 when she was opening for the Allman Brothers. Trucks was just 20 but the romance between the two grew and they got married in 2001.
In a short profile he wrote for The New Yorker in 2016, Nick Paumgarten mentions an anecdote related to him by Tedeschi, who has opened or played with greats such as B.B. King, Bob Dylan, and Taj Mahal. The late B.B. King treated Tedeschi like a granddaughter, and, for a long time, he didn’t want to meet Trucks because he knew an old boyfriend of hers who hadn’t treated her well. Finally, when he met Trucks and heard him play, he’s believed to have said: “Now I know why you wanna marry him. I wanna marry him!"
Plaudits such as these have been showered routinely on Trucks. Considered a child prodigy, he had played with Buddy Guy and other famous blues-men before he was 15. By the time he was 20, he had collaborated or played with Eric Clapton, Dylan and Stephen Stills. Early on in his career, Trucks was influenced by the late Duane Allman’s style of playing but Trucks soon developed his own eclectic style: uniquely blending classic blues rock with jazz, soul, even Indian classical music. The Indian sarod maestro, the late Ali Akbar Khan, has also been an influence on him and it is not uncommon to hear him improvise his solos, Indian raga style.
At the gig in DC, the band did all the songs on Signs, some of them extended versions that were longer than they are on the album. An 11-minute-plus version of Shame, which could be interpreted as a comment on the state of the world now, stands out. But in the second half of the gig, the band dug out some of their older songs and jammed out on them to create really long versions. Notable among them is Midnight In Harlem, a reflection on coming to New York City, and its nearly 15-minute version on the set-list is unmissable.
The songs on Signs, the album, are more compact than their live versions but it is an impeccably produced piece of work. Tedeschi’s soaring vocals straddle multiple genres: blues, of course, but also soul, jazz and funk. And Trucks’ guitar, as always, is brilliant.
All of TTB’s studio albums, beginning with 2011’s Revelator, deserve a listen but a few of their live recordings are especially worth exploring. My favourite among them is 2017’s Live From The Fox Oakland. Check out, particularly, their versions of Leonard Cohen’s Bird On the Wire; George Harrison’s Within You, Without You; and Miles Davis’ Ali.
THE LOUNGE LIST
Five tracks from TTB to bookend your week
1. ‘Shame’ from ‘Signs’
2. ‘Bird On the Wire’ from ‘Live From The Fox Oakland’
3. ‘These Walls’ from ‘Live From The Fox Oakland’
4. ‘Strengthen What Remains’ from ‘Signs’
5. ‘Midnight In Harlem’ from ‘Revelator’
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