RECORDED BY THE TEDESCHI-TRUCKS BAND
Jim Scott loves Derek Trucks. You’d only have to listen to as much as a shred of ‘Midnight in Harlem’ to know that. Mrs. Trucks a.k.a. Susan Tedeschi steps back from the microphone and Scott rolls a carpet right out to the limousine for dear Mr. Trucks to walk on. The solo is queued in, Derek at his resonant best, and you hear it till the very last note. There’s no fade-out, there’s no intrusion of the chorus riff to steal its glory away. It plays until it dies out, the music supports. It’s like everyone stops and what’s playing is but a backing track, inconspicuous. Almost irrelevant.
Vocalist Mike Mattison (along with Derek) writes this song that’s just slide-guitar and woman vocals, both at their glorious best, in a ‘Jessica’ (from the Allman Brothers’ album ‘Brothers and Sisters’) meets Soul sort of romance. The lines are sad but her voice almost laughs. Susan has an uncharacteristic confidence that shows in a sort of Annie Lennox performance of sadness, of a woman feeling blue with her pride intact. There’s beauty in this defeatism, in the accomplished self-sufficiency of it, the contentment of feeling nothing, of wanting nothing from the listener but for them to sit back and listen.
Two worlds blend together to make one that’s bigger than both can individually ever be. If Derek and Susan kept their music intact by marrying it, this band is like a baby of that Union. ‘the Tedeschi-Trucks Band’, an eleven-member group, debuts with ‘Revelator’ (2011), a confluence of the good old Blues, some Soul, a bit of funk in the modern Blues-Rock label, and not to mention, the unclassifiable Derek Trucks. Jim Scott, having weighed it down with years with Wilco, Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Johnny Cash, has all the knowledge in the world to shape this record to an exciting whole. The album has been released by Sony Masterworks, a revamp of Sony Classical, founded in 2006 as we hear.
As extensive as every other Derek Trucks record (‘Songlines’ in 2006, ‘Already Free’ in 2009), ‘Revelator’ has 13 tracks running for about an hour (61 minutes), performed by a conglomerate of musicians included in and aside from the original band, like David Ryan Harris (guitar, vocal and co-writing credits for ‘Shelter’) and J.J. Johnson (Drums/Percussion on all tracks), both from John Mayer’s old roster.
It’s astounding how much of the musical pie-chart the band manages to eat into. There’s the groan-meets-badass blues in ‘Come see about Me’ and ‘Learn how to Love.’ ‘Bound for Glory’ could be the more optimistic rock standard, while ‘Ball and Chain’ wails it old-school. With the weight of the entire album on his shoulders, we can’t do without a song on Derek especially. ‘Don’t let me Slide’ is that song, a cheeky-titled double-entendre that eventually lets him slide anyway and how! We have melodies country-styled in ‘Shelter’ and ‘Until you Remember’, ‘Midnight in Harlem’ for the memories and ‘These Walls’ in a world-music mix.
Susan takes centre-stage on a Derek Trucks record. It’s an effective combination. The two of them make a power-duo of sorts. He plays guitar, she sings to match. And Scott, the engineer, cements it to spotless perfection. The arrangement is exciting and never loses quirk. The songs are strong, hard-hitting and intense. They’re beautifully mixed, even though we know that in case of a band as this, there’s barely any need. The Tedeschi-Trucks ensemble has always been extremely well-coordinated and provide some of their best performances live. They did at Clapton’s Crossroads, 2010. Here, they do better.
‘Revelator’ has won ‘Best Blues Album’ (A merger of Contemporary and Traditional Blues, previously) at the 54th Grammy Awards, with Derek battling uncle Gregg and Warren Haynes from the Allman family, alongside veterans Keb Mo and Marcia Ball. We had a similar situation last time around with John Mayer nominated (for his 'Crossroads' cover) against the might of McCartney, Young, Plant and Clapton himself for ‘Best Rock Vocal Performance.' It’s uncanny to have a kid-prodigy fighting it with the giants. It’s even better when he wins, as in a Mozart-Salieri equivalent.
Years of having been two of the very few flag-bearer of the Blues in this generation, Trucks and Tedeschi reap their reward. And with that in our system, we now wait to see what John Mayer’s about to come up with, with ‘Born and Raised’ due any minute now.