Tedeschi Trucks Band "Made Up Mind," released August 20, 2013 on Sony Masterworks
Three cheers for the Tedeschi Trucks Band for sticking with it. The 22-armed juggernaut continues to roam the countryside behind 8-foot deep concrete walls of sound. It can’t be easy keeping an 11-piece band together. Actually, I’m told Oteil Burbridge has bowed out for now to focus on daddy duty, but I believe the head count is still 11 with a rotating roster of touring replacements. Insert Spinal Tap joke here: this band goes up to eleven.
The second collection of recorded songs, third if you count the double-live album of last year, continues along the “Soul Stew Revival” parameters laid down by “Revelator,” offering a mixture of alternating styles which fall under the classic R&B umbrella.
First out of the gate, the title track “Made up Mind,” is thick and high-spirited--a smashing opener which I’d classify as raucous if it wasn’t so soundly structured. This is a perfect calling card for the group’s sound as a whole, and sets the stage well, though I wouldn’t say it’s the strongest song on this outstanding album.
Fans of Kofi Burbridge’s jazz flute will enjoy the lilting, breezy “Idle Wind.” Its flavor adds an interesting variance to the tapestry they're weaving.
Susan Tedeschi belts out as strong a blues number as I’ve heard in years on “Misunderstood,” proving she’s not just along for the ride, but the perfect lead vocalist for this cadre of talent.
“Part of Me,” the album’s first single, is finely-crafted and memorable, with a delightful doo-wop flair backing Tedeschi’s lead vocals. However, I think the best is still to come, if you’re following along with the album’s sequence.
My money is on “All That I Need” for the album’s next single. If it sounds like they’re merely adhering to the established, timeworn structure of rock ‘n’ roll, they are–-and they’re damn good at it, possibly among the best currently practicing the art.
Finally, the jam I knew would be there, the one I was waiting for: “The Storm.” Like all great live jams, it starts innocently enough--hitting all the right notes, beats, and parts at the right time, but quickly unfolds to reveal the fertile musical ground upon which a collectively brilliant group of this magnitude can extrapolate and explore to seemingly no end. Unfortunately, the track fades mid-jam. My guess is they could easily riff on this one for 20-30 minutes in a live setting. I hope they come back around soon so I can experience it in all its glory.
There are no bad songs on this album, though some are a little slow and lovey-dovey for my taste. My only real problem with the album is in its recording, or more correctly, possibly the mastering. Derek tells me he built his own home studio for recording, and that yes, they can actually fit all 11 pieces in the room at once. I am a big fan of recording music live with all the pieces present and playing off of each other. I think it’s led to many a great and lively recording over the years. But the fidelity on this album comes off as a little muddy, leaning too heavily on the mid-range frequencies, similar to how the 1970s Led Zeppelin albums sounded. Ask any record collector or audiophile if the Led Zeppelin albums sounded muddy and they will tell you, “Yes, absolutely.” This is not to say those weren’t a catalog of incredible and almost mythically epic songs, just that something in the mastering went awry. I’ll bet Jimmy Page himself would agree, as he’s gone to the trouble to diligently re-master every single Led Zeppelin recording over the years. Anyway, there’s something about the sound-as-a-whole here which reminds me of those pressings. Maybe that’s intentional (a rock band could certainly do worse than to try and emulate Led Zeppelin in every way possible, after all). Maybe it’s mastered to sound best on vinyl (I’ve noticed vinyl pressings are also available.) Maybe it’s impossible to properly isolate and mic that many people playing in the same room.
It’s a small matter really. If you listen past that, you'll hear compositions and performances representing a group at the top of their game. If only all albums were this good, maybe more people would still be buying them.
Review by Toast-n-Jam Host Chris Diestler