CD Review: The Tedeschi Trucks Band — “Live From the Fox Oakland”
So much goes on over the course of Live From the Fox Oakland that the TTB upends the notion of a band “settling” into a sound.
Live From the Fox Oakland, the Tedeschi Trucks Band.
By Scott McLennan
Live albums, at their best, are audio snapshots that a band creates at the moment. With that in mind, let’s just say that Live From the Fox Oakland is a wide-angle lens shot that justly captures the Tedeschi Trucks Band in action.
This searing combo, formed in 2010 when the husband and wife team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi disbanded their individual groups, has evolved into what is now a 12-piece musical juggernaut of impeccable chops, imagination, and taste.
Trucks and Tedeschi are complementary guitar players: he’s a masterful slide player, as comfortable exploring a jazz figure as he is rocking out; she handles muscular blues passages and loping R&B parts. South Shore native Tedeschi also has grown tremendously as a singer, illustrated on Live From the Fox Oakland when she skillfully handles both the gentle, country-tinged tune “These Walls” and the soaring amalgam of soul, funk, and rock wrapped up in “Let Me Get By.”
The other members of the band — keyboard player Kofi Burbridge, drummers J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell, bassist Tim Lefebvre, saxophonist Kebbi Williams, trumpet player Ephraim Owens, trombone player Elizabeth Lea, and singers Mike Mattison, Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour — do far more than simply follow the cues sent out by Trucks, who serves as something of a conductor on stage. Every song unfolds like a spontaneous musical conversation; the players respond to something they just heard from one of their bandmates. And, as good as each individual player is, none showboats at the expense of the tune. (It’s well worth springing for the versions of this release that come with an accompanying film available on DVD and Blu-Ray to see — as well as listen to — the interplay among these superb musicians).
Given the band’s sheer size, it also manages to be remarkably subtle, though there’s no holding back once a song reaches full boil.
Given that deft feel for dynamics, the Tedeschi Trucks Band can tackle old warhorses, such as Derek and the Dominos “Keep on Growing” and the Bobby “Blue” Bland hit “I Pity the Fool,” without sounding as if they are peddling nostalgia. In fact, a third of Live From the Fox Oakland is made up of crisply inventive versions of cover tunes, spanning from Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire” and The Beatles “Within You, Without You” (both cerebral and meditative) to Sleepy John Estes’ primitive stomp “Leaving Trunk”
Newcomers to the band may been been reassured by the line-up of familiar songs by big names. But the TTB’s own body of songs — created over three studio albums — is now pretty impressive and reflects the broad range of influences that feed this ambitious outfit.
The blues is still the foundation of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and the album’s opener, “Don’t Know What It Means,” is as spirited a contemporary blues as you will find. But from there the band moves into less predictable territory, uncorking on the boozy cabaret number “Right on Time” and “I Want More,” a example of Sly Stone inspired funk rock. Here the latter invites some extended jamming between Trucks and Burbridge (playing flute) that wends its way back to an outro passage of Santana’s Woodstock-era anthem “Soul Sacrifice.”
“Ali,” a new composition featured on Live From the Fox Oakland, echoes the sound of the electric jazz combos Miles Davis played with in the early 1970s. It’s a fresh endeavor for the TTB, and suggests that the musicians still have plenty of exploring to do together.
There are also a couple of nice looks back. The first is the aforementioned “These Walls,” presented here with a guest appearance by sarod player Alam Khan, who appears on the original studio recording; he locks in with Trucks for some mesmerizing back and forth that melds Indian folk music and the blues. The album also gives a proper home to the lovely “Don’t Drift Away,” a tune recorded for the band’s second album, but not included on the final release.
So much goes on over the course of Live From the Fox Oakland that the TTB upends the notion of a band “settling” into a sound. Nothing is settling down here; if anything, the band refuses sit in any one spot — it is constantly in motion, kicking up new ideas as it moves forward.
Live From the Fox Oakland is now available, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Wheel of Soul Tour with Hot Tuna and the Wood Brothers will be at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford, N.H. on July 1, the Providence Performing Arts Center in Providence, R.I. on July 7, and at the Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center, Simsbury CT, on July 9.
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to The Boston Globe, The Providence Journal, The Portland Press Herald and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.