The Tedeschi Trucks Band has always been a supergroup of sorts. It’s led by singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi and guitarist Derek Trucks. Both are stars in their own right, Tedeschi for her solo career, and Trucks for his (and for his seminal work reinvigorating the Allman Brothers Band). Signs, the band’s fourth studio album, is an intimate showcase for Tedeschi, which features Trucks supporting his wife.
The intimacy of the album is surprising. The Tedeschi Trucks band is huge; 12 people huge. It’s a jury. Their previous releases have had a big sound, with lots of horns, guitar, and Tedeschi’s voice, which has the grit of Janis Joplin and the delicateness of Bonnie Raitt. Signs has some of those big band moments, but also many quieter ones, putting the spotlight on Tedeschi and her voice, along with some wonderful orchestral touches, and with Trucks more of a featured soloist.
“I’m Gonna Be There” is gentle, with loads of piano, and the aforementioned strings, written and arranged by band’s late flutist/keyboardist Kofi Burbridge. The uplifting chorus feels like something Carole King might have written. Trucks contributes a stinging slide guitar solo, which works with the background singers, but also brilliantly fights them. It’s a beautiful track, but not one with the typical Tedeschi Trucks Band sound. It’s hard to imagine how the band might jam it out for their live show, since it’s a fairly contained piece that might not lend itself to massive improvisation.
Signs isn’t all soft departure, though. There are some more familiar-sounding tracks. “Shame” is funky soul, with waves of horns and electric piano. Tedeschi benevolently rules over all of it with her voice, but Trucks is very much in the mix, figuratively and literally, with one of his most rocking solo’s of the album. With its tempo changes and different musical sections, it’s an expansive track. Trucks’ guitar playing is baked into the track, giving it a cohesion, rather than feeling like he’s just dropping his lead lines into the song.
Another of the album’s nicer moments is “The Ending,” a duet between Trucks and Tedeschi, with Trucks playing acoustic slide guitar. It doesn’t sound entirely like a country blues, although it veers in that direction. But it’s also not entirely folk. It’s mostly just two talented musicians pulling in influences and letting their exceptional taste dictate where the song goes. And it goes someplace beautiful.
As a huge Trucks fan, I wanted a lot of guitar on Signs. That’s not this album. Trucks is present, but he doesn’t dominate. Many of the performances are more keyboard-driven than guitar-led. It’s a fair transition. The two have their own bands, as well as this one, and they’re already four studio albums into its career. Many artists need to change things up or risk feeling stale. Signs isn’t a dramatic departure from the band’s previous work, but for now they are embracing a softer side.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– The Ending
– Let Me Get By
– They Don’t Shy
– Signs (High Times)
The Big Hit
Review by Steven Ovadia