Back To The River
Imagine being raised in and around Boston Massachusetts, attending Catholic church but identifying more strongly with what’s happening down the street in the Baptist congregation. For a singer like Susan Tedeschi it was a clarion call. She began attending predominantly African American churches, later stating that their approach to singing was "less repressed and more like a celebration of God."
There’s nothing repressed about Susan Tedeschi’s music; her voice bubbles over with soulful exuberance and is buoyed by a defiant rock and roll attitude. She surrounds herself with extraordinary musicians, seeks the right producer to coax out of the ensemble whatever is necessary for a great recording, and finds songs that will maximize her enormous talent.
Tedeschi’s last two recordings pushed her into new directions, covering other writer’s work and moving in a more soul and pop oriented vein. Back To the River is a return to the style of record that launched Tedeschi’s career – a collection of blues, rock and R&B flavored songs that follows in the footsteps of Janis Joplin and The Allman Brothers. The opening track, “Talking About,” a song co-written with Doyle Bramhall, leaps out at you with a guitar riff that sounds like a ‘60’s rock classic. Bramhall takes on the guitar duties on this one and backs Tedeschi as she wails and shouts. Tedeschi teamed up with Tony Joe White for the heavy duty blues-rock title track. Derek Trucks, Tedeschi’s husband, brings a funky vibe, ala Sly Stone, to their mutually penned “Butterfly.” Trucks also plays slide guitar on 3 additional tracks. At the boards is producer George Drakoulias, a protégé of Rick Rubin. Drakoulias’ work with Tom Petty, Primal Scream, Maria McKee and Screaming Trees gives him a range of experience that comes in handy here as Tedeschi and company mix up the genres.
Other co-writers include John Leventhal and Gary Louris and fellow Massachusetts native and 19 year old phenom, Sonya Kitchell. The Kitchell/Tedeschi pairing produces the albums most political song. “People,” is a call for sanity and logic in place of nasty political rhetoric. Louris sings harmony vocals on the very catchy “Learning The Hard Way.” “True”sounds like a natural hit with its ear-grabbing melody and Al Green inspired horn section. Tedeschi’s turns Allen Toussaint’s “There’s A Break In the Road” into a gritty funky declaration of heartache. The one song Tedeschi wrote solo is the slinky blues ballad “Can’t Sleep At Night.” Although she has proven herself to be capable of nuanced and stylized vocals, here she goes bare boned. The voice is raw, the power untethered. It’s the sound of a woman who is too tired to maneuver her lover’s emotions. Instead she lays it out like a slap across the cheek.
Susan Tedeschi is a solid guitarist, an evolving songwriter, and one of the purest blues rock vocalists of her generation. Hopefully this recording will expand her audience.