In each of the nine years that spouses Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi have led their 12-strong enterprise of virtuosos, they’ve all worked relentlessly to advance their music and their name. This sixth Tedeschi Trucks Band album once again documents their resounding success. “Signs” reveals indelible views through incredible art.
Its songs encourage, but are shaped by anxiety and profound grief. They indict, and also revel in the beauty of being. They’re kissed by the blues, married to soul for life, and firmly fixed in the rock of ages. A whiff of flower power drifts from their drive. Sophisticated yes, but these are nonetheless concise, carefully crafted songs, the improvisational possibilities within them reserved for the stage.
Study the peculiar cover painting while listening to Tedeschi sing at her most emotionally delicate in “Strengthen What Remains.” Lifted by Trucks’ faint plucking and Kofi Burbridge’s chamber music strings and flute, Tedeschi, as if perched on an old Savannah garden bench, could move you to tears. But the diversity of colorful fish in the painting flees like a swell of humanity away. From what? “Signs, High Times” offers one likelihood in its assertion that “Might Ain’t Right,” amid its slabs of brass-blasted, funky rock.
“Shame,” another furious rocker, also boils over, with an aching to shoot the circus ringmaster from a canon. These folks are concerned, and mad. Every song prompts deep thought, all the way through to “The Ending,” a tender but unnerving discourse on the bizarre death of Col. Bruce Hampton, performed on acoustic guitars by Tedeschi, Trucks, and guest Oliver Wood. A mentor to hordes of free-minded musicians, Hampton collapsed in front of Tedeschi, Trucks and many others as they performed with him at his 70th birthday concert. The event followed the death of Trucks’ uncle, Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks, three months prior. Three weeks later, Gregg Allman passed.
But uplifting, adoring moments are also abundant. “They Don’t Shine” riffs, rolls and shakes a tail feather like the Stones on Bourbon, Tedeschi beaming to her lover that her eyes “Just don’t shine for anyone.” Pure devotion cuts through worry in “When Will I Begin,” Tedeschi’s lyrics “Will you hold me close like the Holy Ghost, say the things I need the most,” particularly stunning with gospel-inspired voices swirling gloriously around her. The band dances like rays of sunlight in “Hard Case,” and in “I’m Gonna Be There,” the lady overcomes adversity in a glossy mirror of rhythm and blues that climaxes in a fiery deluge by her mate.
Derek Trucks plays the guitar to dazzling effect in every song, underscoring the wide array of sentiments with his idiosyncratic, world-class textures and dynamic range. Susan Tedeschi plays terrific, steely guitar as well, but most significantly, proves time and again that she’s one of the finest rock and soul singers of our day. Each song rises above and illuminates the interaction of a true band. With these exhilarating “Signs,” Tedeschi Trucks Band offers 11 compelling reasons to ride its wave.
Adding to the profound sadness and grief surrounding the making of “Signs,” keyboardist and flautist Kofi Burbridge passed away on Feb. 15 from complications following a heart attack suffered eight months prior. Burbridge played a major role in the crafting of the album, released as planned on Feb. 15. Burbridge had been Derek Trucks’ close musical partner since joining the guitarist in the Derek Trucks Band in 1999. He is survived by his younger brother, Oteil Burbridge, former bassist in The Allman Brothers Band and Tedeschi Trucks Band, and currently with Dead & Co.
Tedeschi Trucks Band – SignsLabel: Fantasy Records
Release: Feb. 15, 2019
ABOUT Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 23 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos.
Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage.
Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.
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