Back to the blues

Susan Tedeschi’s Back To The River, released late last year, quickly moved to the top of the Billboard Blues chart and remains near the top after nine weeks. But it appears to have been virtually ignored by most of the major rock magazines.

That’s too bad because as much as this is a blues outing, it’s a smokin’ rock ‘n roll record as well and another to add to the best of 2008. With the centerpiece Tedeschi’s blues drenched vocals, River is one of her best records and shows how she not only uses her considerable playing and singing abilities but also her strong collaborative songwriting skills.

stedeschi-coverAt first. Tedeschi’s voice is reminiscent of some great blues and rock singers of recent history such as Bonnie Raitt and Bonnie Bramlett, but the more you listen, the more you discover her unique approach, phrasing and a rough, sometimes raspy edge to a prodigious vocal range and quality that is rarely rivaled among female singers today.

 She wrote the opening track, Talking About, with Doyle Bramhall II and husband Derek Trucks, both of whom have recently played in the Eric Clapton band, most notably at the 2007 Chicago Crossroads concert that included a set with Steve Winwood. Both are extraordinary slide players and the tune sets the tone for the album, which is infused with infectious riffs, gritty blues melodies and virtuoso playing throughout.

Trucks, who has his own band and also plays with the Allman Brothers, co-wrote two other tracks, including Butterfly, which is one of the more soul-flavored tunes with a riff and feel that reminds one a little of Sly Stone.

John Leventhal (two songs), Tony Joe White, Sonya Kitchell and Gary Louris are among the other co-writers. Can’t Sleep At Night is Tedeschi’s own and she covers Allain Toussaint’s There’s A Break In The Road.

Bramhall’s soloing and lead lines, which Tedeschi’s vocal doubles at times, over the burning groove of Talking About give way to the R&B ballad 700 Houses, showcasing a more tender side to Tedeschi’s voice, underscored by hopeful lyrics, Trucks’ melodic lines on slide and tasteful horns.

Tedeschi’s core band of guitarist Dave Yoke, keyboard player Matt Slocum, Ted Pecchio, bass, and drummer Tyler Greenwell lays down deep grooves as witnessed by the wah-wah driven title track. Tedeschi takes lead guitar outings on six of the tracks, including River, lending a nice contrast to the Bramhall-Trucks tandem with her clean Telecaster tone.

The album doesn’t have a weak track on it. From the strutting groove of Love Will to a soul-inflected People, the heartfelt Revolutionize Your Soul and the driving hidden/bonus track 99 Pounds, it clearly reinforces Tedeschi’s position as a premier singer, songwriter and player.

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