Trucks, Tedeschi climb aboard the soul train
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
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produced by Trucks (Victor)/produced by George Drakoulias (Verve Forecast)
Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi are riding the soul train ” together. The husband-and-wife musicians both started roughly in the blues fold, but have been edging decidedly toward soul sounds and ideas over the last few years. Two summers ago, the band they co-lead, Soul Stew Revival, made a stop at Jazz Aspen’s Labor Day Festival.
Guitarist Trucks could easily dazzle with his guitar playing alone. (He was ranked 81st on Rolling Stone’s list of greatest guitarists ” but that was six years ago, when he was 23.) He chooses not to, placing his slide licks in the context of songs like the hand-clapping “Sweet Inspiration” and the retro original “Days Is Almost Gone,” which shine the spotlight equally on vocalist Mike Mattison. Trucks delivers his guitar in short bursts ” which might be why they are so effective, as on the coda to “Maybe This Time.”
The Derek Trucks Band has taken a wise approach to artistic growth, taking small but significant steps with each album ” adding a vocalist here, trying out horns there. So on “Already Free,” they’re bigger than ever ” horns, multiple drummers, layered vocals ” but it’s always thought through and uncluttered.
Tedeschi, too, stays on the soul track. But instead of rooting around for old material, she hooks up with co-writers from all over the age and stylistic spectrum (Sonya Kitchell, the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris and her hubby) to create new songs. Most, like “Learning the Hard Way” and “True,” are reminders to stay on an upward, enlightened arc.
In sound, “Back to the River” isn’t as overtly soul-oriented as 2005’s “Hope and Desire.” Here, Tedeschi comes out screaming, Janis Joplin-like, on the unrestrained “Talking About,” and really opens her pipes on the title track. By the fifth song, “Butterfly,” you’re concerned for the health of her throat ” which actually sounds just fine in this blues-rock mode, which stretches her cords to the limit. Even on “Revolutionize Your Soul,” which leans closer to classic soul, she lets loose completely. If Tedeschi returns to a gentler singing style next time out, it might be out of physical necessity.
produced by Ben H. Allen and Animal Collective (Domino)
Some years ago, I read an article that made the point that rock ‘n’ roll had nothing to do with words, it was all about the sound. Absurd, I thought, thinking of Dylan and Townsend, Springsteen and Costello.
Animal Collective has given me reason to revisit the topic. The group’s music has lyrics, and sometimes on “Merriweather Post Pavilion” ” named after, but not recorded at, the Maryland amphitheater of the same name ” you can even make them out through the fuzzy, dense, swirl of the music. The words are ordinary, repetitious or meaningless ” on a literary level, rarely worth the effort of deciphering them. Animal Collective’s way of singing ” more like overlapping group chirping ” does little to add any emotional heft to the lyrics.
And so what? The sound the trio creates holds worlds full of meaning. A lineup of synthesizers, samples and other electronic doo-dads ” the band’s guitarist is absent from this album ” might suggest chilliness, but Animal Collective manages to make of this a warm collage that connects back to the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” and the Beatles’ more experimental face (i.e., John Lennon). Trippy, yet substantial ” and even a throwaway line like “No more runnin,'” sung over and over, seems sufficient and coherent.
Martin Sexton says that playing solo is his strongest format, and here’s strong evidence. Sexton is nominally a singer-songwriter, but his guitar-playing, while not dazzling, is diverse enough to cover swing, funk and folk, so there are lots of textures. The main event, though, is Sexton’s voice, which draws you in closer and closer, lifts you higher and higher, especially on the upbeat “Happy.” Sexton is the epitome of the artist whose essence can’t be captured on a recording ” but “Solo” comes closest yet. It also comes with a DVD, “Live at Mile High,” which offers a look at Sexton’s cheeks ” the cutest and chubbiest on tour these days ” but is a fairly low-budget, unexceptional production.
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