Album review: Revelator/Tedeschi Trucks Band

Posted: January 9, 2012 in Album review: rock

Bias is perhaps the biggest no-no for any critic or reviewer. You, the reader, trust us with complete steely impartiality; you trust us to do our job of slicing through the hype and the hubris to get at the real meat of the thing. So I hope it doesn’t wrinkle your confidence to know I am writing this review attired in the Tedeschi Trucks Band t-shirt I bought at this year’s Byron Bay Bluesfest where this band blew my tiny mind.

But does the debut album of husband and wife blues-rock royalty, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks – Revelator – capture the slow burn and spark of their live show? The recording studio has too often sucked the fire – the live tightrope danger – out of any jam-band, from the Grateful Dead (the grand-daddy of jam-bands) to the mighty Allman Brothers Band (a latter day version which counts Trucks as slide-guitarist). That is not the case here.

Produced by longtime associate Jim Scott with Derek Trucks, the album takes its sweet time to mesmerise. There are no up-tempo boogaloos or rockers here – the flavour is Southern country funk almost all the way and, even though the band is an 11 piece juggernaut, the vibe is very collective, very “family”, reflecting the fragrant values of the early 70’s counterculture at the core of this music. Blues, roots and good weed.

Trucks – the wunderkind of modern US blues-rock – has played in the band of his wife, Susan Tedeschi and she in his. They have even formed a collective of both their bands known as “Soul Stew Revival”. But the Tedeschi Trucks Band has a different focus from their previous jam-band covers and blues workouts – on Revelator the songs are up front. Written by husband and wife with various collaborators, there are some true pearls here. The opener ‘Come See About Me’ is a strong-woman strut song, driven by the rolling bass of Oteil Burbridge (Trucks’ buddy from the Allmans) and the greasy wah-wah clavinet of his brother Kofi. Susan Tedeschi’s opening note, held long like the howl of a slide guitar is a wakeup for what is to come.

In fact there are so many moments when the listener cannot tell if some of those sliding melismatic notes are Tedeschi’s voice or Trucks’ pill-bottle slide rasping across the strings of his SG, they are so close. The two voices blend, merge, intertwine into a single thing of real beauty. Throughout Revelator, Derek Trucks’ playing is staggering – he has reinvented the slide-guitar for the new century, pulling out things that seem impossible. But beyond technique, his playing has a chillingly beautiful vocal quality that is the holy grail of anyone who plays the blues, on any instrument. His long coda solo on the moody ‘Midnight in Harlem’ just rises and rises and rises into a dawn-sky of fire.

Susan Tedeschi’s voice is equally captivating – raw, honest, with a burr at its edge that she sharpens or softens according to her message or pain. On the piano driven ‘Until You Remember’ she gives a masterclass on the gems that can be prised from the simplest melody.

Fans have waited a long time for this album from the king and queen of American blues-rock. Rolling Stone has called Revelator a ‘masterpiece’ but that seems too pompous and limiting a title for a work that is equally so very human and so majestic.

Published June 2011 on liveguide.com.au

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