Editor’s note: The Tedeschi Trucks Band was the recipient of Band of Year and Rock Blues Album of the Year at the May 11 Blues Music Awards in Memphis. Susan Tedeschi won for Contemporary Blues Female Artist. Below is a Tahoe Onstage review of the album.
For the artists that we consider great, their biggest challenger is usually themselves. Bob Dylan could only be compared to himself, whom he changed at will as he went from acoustic folkie to electric storyteller, from protest songs to poetic soliloquies. David Bowie pushed himself to produce something different and challenging on each record. Tedeschi Trucks Band is at the top of its game and it pushed itself to greater heights with their latest album, “Let Me Get By.”
A band fronted by guitarist Derek Trucks and guitarist/singer Susan Tedeschi is about as good a place to start when forming a band, and their bond has helped create a phenomenal and monstrous 11-piece band with the talents of keyboardist/flutist Kofi Burbridge, drummers Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson, bassist Tim Lefebvre, singers Mike Mattison, Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour, saxophonist Kebbi Williams, trombonist Elizabeth Lea and trumpeter Ephraim Owens.
With Tedeschi and Trucks’ work before this band — Tedeschi’s charging solo blues career and Trucks’ prodigal rise to Allman Brothers guitarist at age 17 and leader of his own band — and what TTB has done over two studio albums and one live album, the group has certainly become an institution. Only a select few other bands and artists are as capable of the awe-inspiring performances this band is.
However, the band can have the effect of being too good and too polished, to the point of being routine. It can play that soulful blues so well and so consistently that you know what to expect, and when you can anticipate a band’s sound some of the magic is gone. Whether the band felt that or not, “Let Me Get By” sounds like the band tried to shake things up a bit.
Songs like “Anyhow” and “Just As Strange” offer up the big, soulful sound that the group has perfected over the years. The former is as uplifting as the first rays of the sun and the latter has the familiar comforting embrace of Tedeschi’s warm voice, Trucks’ tonal chirps on the slide and the front-porch spirituality of the band. But they could have fit on any of the band’s other releases and they serve more of a reminder of what the band does well, not necessarily its capabilities.
They subtly test those waters on “Laugh About It.” Trucks’ guitar sings the beautiful, tidal melody as Tedeschi’s voice wades through it with stirring grace. Trucks’ guitar is joined in gorgeous congruence by Burbidge’s piano, which is a small detail in the grand scheme of things but is a different sonic texture than we’ve heard before, illustrating a back-and-forth between Trucks and the rest of the band that isn’t always present on its previous work. The band has mentioned one thing that sets this apart from other records is that is comes from a more organically collaborative space, and it is certainly felt on the loose “Don’t Know What It Means” as the ensemble divulges into a gospel-style singalong.
The most kinetic collaboration is the pulsing “I Want More,” which has the familial-funk vibe of Sly and the Family Stone. With the horns blazing and drums pounding the song is going to make you pump your first in fiery solidarity. But the band wanted more and the song cools off into a mystical jam between Trucks’ guitar and Burbridge’s flute, which has a calming resonance. The ability to occupy two completely different spaces within the same song hasn’t been done by the band on record, and hints more at the stunning depth the band it can reach when challenging itself live.
Variety is the spice of life and the musicians truly pushed their boundaries on the boozy “Right On Time,” which straddles the gypsy-troubadour blues line with Mike Mattison’s sorrowful verses and the low swing provided by the horn section. It is not the most compelling song by itself, but it is an honest attempt to try something completely new, which is always commendable. Mattison takes center stage again on “Crying Over You/Swamp Raga,” a feel-good soul scorcher that adds a little string embellishment, a first for the group, on top of a hearty solo from Trucks. The band then cuts out and Trucks’ acoustic guitar and Burbridge’s flute tread softly together in meditative wonder, a nice little coda that pulls from Trucks’ affinity for inspiration outside of Western influences.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band is truly great, and “Let Me Get By” is a record that shows what a great band can do when it pushes itself to come up with something a little bit different.
- Tedeschi Trucks Band
“Let Me Get By”
Release: Jan. 29, 2016
Notable Tracks: “Laugh About It,” “I Want More,” “Crying Over You/Swamp Raga”
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