Susan Tedeschi

Susan Tedeschi
Back To The River

Verve Forecast Records

By Bill Copeland
December 2008

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Susan Tedeschi has moved into some funky territory on her new disc, Back To The River.

It is not really a blues album so much as an album that highlights genres with a lot of blues roots. Funky danceable songs, infectious folk pop songs, and a cover of Allan Toussaintís “Thereís A Break In The Road” make for tasty portions in a great meal.

While blues purists may be unsatisfied with this disc, fans of American roots music will recognize this as Tedeschiís best effort to date. She has found her groove along with the musical gravitas to back her belt. It doesnít hurt that she is married to Allman Brothers guitarist Derek Trucks, who brings his blues-rock guitar edge to this effort.

I can confidently recommend this record to just about anyone because Tesdeschi offers many musical elements, and she puts them all across with exceptional skill.

“Talking About” opens this disc with driving rhythm guitar and drums that allows Tedeschi to belt out her chorus with more aggression than sheís shown in the past. She winds up her angst during the verses and unloads it in such an emotional salvo on the chorus that she sounds like a keyed up Janis Joplin with a hard rock band behind her.

Tedeschi gracefully and warmly embraces the challenges of Hurricane Katrina on “700 Houses,” a quiet reflection on the tragedy thatís affected most of the national music community.

She moves onto her swirling, edgy R&B title track “Back To The River,” a song that is actually about being a mother away from her children when sheís on the road.

The blues chanteuse tackles the challenge of more pop structured material on “Love Will,” a catchy fun song that should garner her more airplay than sheís had in the past. Her sweet, fetching guitar lead makes an attractive counterpoint to her raspy drawl.

Tedeschi made a wise choice to handle more of the guitar work on her discs and tours since no one can express on the six string what sheís feeling better than the artist herself.

“Butterfly,” the one song produced by hubby Trucks, comes off with the aggression of Allman Brothers material in its groove. Tedeschi co-wrote this track with Trucks, and you can picture them having fun playing this song together - Tedeschi on lead, Trucks on slide. The added power of both captures what the song means about soaring free from oneís current restraints.

“People” is another track that could get radio play. Or, it might find itself on a soundtrack to some kind of feel-good movie. The lead guitar phrasing over acoustic guitar makes this song very accessible. Tedeschiís catchy chorus doesnít hurt commercial appeal either. This song makes clear that Tedeschi had been following the recent election news stories and sheís as frustrated as the rest of us with the conflicting impressions of our leaders: “Vote for him donít vote for her/Sheís likely to be bought/ Vote for her donít vote for him/Powerís his only thought.”

One of Tedeschiís biggest accomplishments on Back To The River is her ability to balance the music genres. “Learning The Hard Way,” a slow, folksy blues number fits right in between “People” and “Revolutionize Your Soul” because it has blues elements of both songsí genres. “Learning” has more searing guitar work while “Revolutionize” contains a swirling organ melody. But both tunes flowed from their blues roots.

The best tune here is Allan Toussaintís “Thereís A Break In The Road.” Tedeschi takes a disciplined approach to keeping all of Toussaintís musical flourishes intact. She leads on guitar, and keeps the band on track with her perfect nailing of the classic R&B verses that first hit the airways in 1969 when vocalist Betty Harris recorded it.

Tedeschi closes out her disc with the slow burner, “Canít Sleep At Night.” Deeper into blues idioms, the song showcases the singerís ability to belt out frustrated emotions that bring to life her lyrics about a relationship gone wrong. We know this song must be about a previous relationship as her work with Trucks shows her marriage is a match made in heaven. In her, Trucks has a musical partner to compliment his skillful fretwork. In him, Tedeschi has a player-producer-songwriter who can help her expand her sound. Trucks also continues to expand her mid-sized audiences with his connections to popular artists.

Back To The River tastefully documents where Tedeschi is today with her music, marriage, and family.

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