As the first snow falls here in “Beantown” Boston, thoughts turn to warming the ears and the soul with the blues: that stutter-stepping music to clear the mind and fortify the soul for another day. Two galvanizing blues bands performed recently in Boston before capacity audiences: one band a furious train of blues/soul energy and the other band delivering a more intimate concert assiduously built on blues that soothed and inspired at every turn.
The blazing locomotive of blues and R & B energy that I refer to is the astonishing Tedeschi Trucks Band (“TTB”) (www.tedeschitrucksband.com) led by magnetic singer, songwriter and guitarist Susan Tedeschi (a Boston native) and the ever-adventurous guitarist and songwriter Derek Trucks (Tedeschi’s spouse and musical partner), along with their current cast of fellow travelers – all stellar vocalists and musicians in their own right. This collective juggernaut of power and exuberance pulled into the sold-out Orpheum Theatre in Boston for three nights in late November and flexed its muscles through a creative stew of rock, soul and blues originals and anthems with spiky sweet ease and soaring abandon.
The TTB was joined by the North Mississippi Allstars (www.nmallstars.com) (“Allstars”) for this round of concerts and at the Orpheum show on November 30th, the Dickinson brothers opened with their own searing set of guitar and drum propulsion, laying into a bracing version of “Ellum Blues” (with Luther Dickinson’s guitar full of chiming chords and off-kilter swampy feel) and the title track from their new album, Prayer For Peace [SMG Records].
Tedeschi joined the Dickinsons for a slow-brewing version of Sam Cooke’s classic, “Mean Old World” with Tedeschi’s voice full of deep expression and her crisp guitar notes intermingled with Luther’s own guitar ardor. (A majestic version of “Mean Old World” can be found on Sam Cooke’s LP, NightBeat [RCA LSP-2709] an LP that was in Harry Pearson’s “Golden Ear” LP list for its beautiful capture of Cooke’s incredibly soulful voice in a crackling after-hours studio session).
After this informal boogie session by the Allstars, (who proclaimed that “music is a haven for us all!”) the TTB took the stage and made themselves right at home in this musical haven with a heavy swamp boogie version of “Rolling and Tumbling” followed by a tumultuous “Made Up Mind” that was highlighted by Kofi Burbridge’s funky keyboard solo propelled by kick-drum thunder from drummers J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell.
Burbridge was an igniter of passionate creativity all night long. On TTB’s soaring version of Clapton’s “AnyDay,” he accompanied vocalist Mike Mattison with dancing keyboard notes that inspired the husk-toned Mattison to sing with passion and soulful finger-snapping groove. Later in the same number, Burbridge took up his flute to accompany Trucks in a contemplative moment where his flute rose and fell next to Trucks’ softly plied slide guitar tumbles. This quiet meditation inevitably led to a giddy rip-roaring storm filled with churning keyboard blasts; Truck’s cavorting highest peals of searing guitar sounds and the rest of the band following in thunderous full-bore reprise of “Any Day’s” explosive chords.
The band roamed all over the blues soul terrain with breathless abandon, taking inspiration from several numbers recorded on their new recording, Live From the Fox Oakland (“Live At Oakland”) [Fantasy; www.concordmusicgroup.com]. The music captured on Live At Oakland is a magnificent slice of what this band is capable of. It moves from Indian-inspired contemplation (with Alam Khan on Sarode joining the band on the quiet swirling “These Walls”) to a cataclysmic shaking “Just As Strange” and “Crying Over You” with full pumping blues/rock abandon. The recording quality is very good, although the recording team chose to deliver a mid-hall perspective on this live concert so that there is less up-front energy and crackling presence to voices and instruments; a laterally wide but less so deep soundstage and some image specificity that is lost in the surrounding resonance of the large hall.
Live At Oakland opens with “Don’t Know What It Means,” a buoyant funk-fest of brass and bass lines (played full throttled by bassist Tim Lefebvre), with Tedeschi singing clarion and carefree. At their Orpheum performance, (where the sound for this concert was excellent, with powerful dynamic sound in which each instrument and voice from the stage was heard clear and tactile), “Don’t Know What It Means” took wing on Truck’s feedback-filled guitar solo (blending fuzzy filtered sounds and obtuse colors) with a bleating, blistering solo from saxophonist Kebbi Williams and Elizabeth Lea’s plunging trombone.
The propulsive “Let Me Get By,” (also appearing on Live From Oakland), was another highlight with Tedeschi singing in bright and gutsy passion urging on a Truck’s guitar solo. That solo traversed from soft caressing tones (combined with Burbridge’s slippery keyboard skirmishes) into a volcanic onslaught of sliding, tumbling fevered pitched notes and phrases that slurred together into a searing crescendo of positive vibe.
This Trucks solo on “Let Me Get By” reminded me of an earlier recording of The Derek Trucks Band, their audiophile gem, Already Free [Victor Records], which ensnares Trucks’ searing slide guitar work front and center with his fine ensemble (including Mattison singing in glowing, husky fashion) on songs involving full flight boogie (“Get What You Deserve”) and soulful sweetness (“Back Where I Started”).
The roaring, appreciative crowd at the Orpheum concert also adored their local hero, Tedeschi, who never let a moment go by without her sterling voice and stinging guitar combination whipping up either a beautiful frenzy or a quiet sultry moment.
On Live At Oakland, Tedeschi’s voice is full of verve and expression on Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire” and then turns bold, sassy and full of bluesy ardor on “I Pity The Fool.” Similarly, at the TTB Orpheum concert, Tedeschi’s voice flowed with this same ardor and deep expression on a swanking version of B.B. King’s “How Blue Can You Get” that also included a deft, crisp Tedeschi guitar solo that burned with her own garlands of stinging notes and bluesy turns of phrase. She also sang a gorgeous version of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” with slow expressive silvery-toned rises and falls, cascading into an equally silvery flute solo by Burbridge, fluttering in the lonesome wind (with a brief lilting ride through the chorus of the Grateful Dead’s “Sugaree”). The band finished out the night with an encore of gospel stride and glorious power, getting the crowd to sing “Rise Up!” as TTB rolled their locomotive engine to its highest gear of blues soar, positive sway and raucous heat.
*NEXT UP: A Boston blues legend plays an intimate, heartfelt and unforgettable concert…