For Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, it was probably only a matter of time before something like this happened. The two blues-rock wunderkinds, married for a decade, have finally joined forces in the studio. The resulting album will undoubtedly go down as one of the year’s best albums in its genre.
Tedeschi Trucks Band's Revelator
Slide guitarist Trucks has spent much of the past decade and a half recording and touring with his own band, with whom he’s created a heady blend of rock, blues, and Eastern-tinged music. Fronted by a succession of vocalists including current “The Voice” sensation Javier Colon and the long-tenured Mike Mattison, co-leader of funk/blues outfit Scrapomatic, Trucks’ band became one of the best-regarded on the jam-band circuit, with Trucks himself being named one of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists.” All the while, he maintained a second musical career, playing countless dates as a member of the Allman Brothers Band.
Tedeschi’s rise on the blues scene began in 1998 with the release of her second album, Just Won’t Burn, for which she was nominated for a Grammy™. Three more studio albums followed, and they were increasingly diverse, with pop balladry, soulful rock, and loose funk added to the straight-ahead blues that kicked off her career. Along the way, she opened for the Rolling Stones, appeared on Austin City Limits and, yes, in 2001, married Trucks.
Soul Stew Revival
The pair began playing together in the late 2000s as a small unit called Soul Stew Revival, and the performances went so well that they decided to record an album together – this time as an eleven-piece group – under the Tedeschi Trucks Band moniker. Revelator sounds more like a Susan Tedeschi album with Trucks on guitar than it does a Derek Trucks album with vocals by Tedeschi; where Trucks’ records are generally bluesier and more stylistically adventurous, Tedeschi’s tend to be mellower and more melody-oriented. That’s certainly the case here, where twelve melodic rock and soul tunes go down like honey, with Trucks’ guitar supporting, never overwhelming the songs. His solos feel organic, as though they’re springing naturally from the story each individual song is telling.
Revelator opens with “Come See About Me,” an instantly accessible pop-soul tune that starts with a simple slide riff from Trucks before blossoming into a full-band jam that blends a horn section, searing B-3 organ, and a clever, descending guitar figure without ever feeling like there’s too much going on. That’s one of the keys to the album’s success: with eleven band members, it would have been easy to overproduce Revelator. Instead, the production (by Trucks and Jim Scott) is full enough to be radio-friendly without ever overreaching.
Bound For Glory
Those expecting the sonic diversity of a Derek Trucks disc might be surprised by this album’s cohesiveness; there’s little here that pushes boundaries. That’s not to say that there aren’t a variety of styles covered here. “Bound For Glory” is horn-infused gospel, with a soaring chorus, harmony vocals that give off a warm glow, and a searing Trucks solo at the song’s emotional climax. “Until You Remember” opens with a New Orleans-style horn breakdown, then turns into a ballad whose unusual chord progression belies a familiar theme of post-breakup desperation. And “Ball and Chain” is a gritty, slide-fueled slow burn of a number reminiscent of Exile On Main Street, except that Tedeschi’s sweet, smooth vocals are a far cry from the swaggering snarl of Mick Jagger.
Other highlights include “Midnight In Harlem,” a bittersweet ballad whose storyline places romantic heartbreak in a setting rife with homelessness and drug abuse; “These Walls,” a mid-tempo tune that flirts with Trucks’ interest in Indian music and that could almost be a prequel to Tedeschi’s cover of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery”; and “Shrimp and Grits,” a too-brief instrumental interlude loaded with Southern-fried funk. (There’s more of that song at the disc’s end, by the way, in the form of a hidden track attached to the lovely, yearning roots-rock tune “Shelter.”)
Ken's Bottom Line
Revelator is so solid from start to finish that there’s really nothing to criticize about it. Tedeschi’s honeyed vocals turn out to be the perfect complement to Trucks’ ringing guitar tone, and the songs they’ve written together effortlessly showcase the strengths of both musicians. Pure traditional blues, or even contemporary blues, this is not, but it’s hard to imagine any blues or roots-music fan not finding something to like here. It goes down easy, yet sticks with you long after your listening session is over. (Sony Masterworks, released June 7, 2011)
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