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Published: 2008/11/03
by Brian Robbins

Back to the River – Susan Tedeschi

Verve Forecast

The Honorable Jesse Jarnow

Album Reviews Editor

Dear Jesse,

Sorry to bother you with this, boss, but I think we have a problem.

I know we discussed doing a two-for-one review featuring Susan Tedeschi’s new album along with the upcoming release from her husband, Derek Trucks, and his band. It’s a neat idea—and probably more than one reviewer will do just that—but after listening to Susan’s new Back To The River, I gotta tell you something: I don’t care who she’s married to — this is a great album. And that’s the problem, boss: I’ve got too much to say about it all on its own.

To tell you the truth, I knew something was up before I even put the disc in the player. There was the cover photo, and then the liner notes verified it: Susan’s got her Tele strapped back on for this one. Don’t get me wrong, the lady’s got a great set of pipes, but she’s at her best (even vocally) when she’s wearing a guitar. Take a look at 2005’s Hope and Desire, boss: a good album with some great players on it. But, promo pictures aside, Susan didn’t play guitar… and that’s like leaving the garlic out of the guacamole.

When it comes to husband Derek, Mr. T’s presence is felt throughout Back To The River (not only laying down some tasty Gibson on several cuts, but as producer on the Stevie Wonder-like “Butterfly”, co-written with Susan). But make no mistake about it: this is Susan’s album, from start to finish. Guitar playing included. (You have to imagine that being around Derek has to rub off on anyone, but Susan definitely has her own six-string voice: a cross between Jimmie Vaughan’s just-enough-notes-to-get-the-job-done and a nasty funkiness that comes from somewhere deep inside the woman herself.)

Remember the power of Susan’s voice at the needle-drop on Just Won’t Burn’s opening cut “Rock Me Right” 10 years ago? Well, you’re gonna experience some d vu on this one: Susan comes roaring out of the gate on “Talking About” and never looks back. (And this isn’t the work of someone trying to recapture her younger fire — this is a mature musician with dues fully paid and stuff to say.) Co-writers on the album range from legendary swampmaster Tony Joe White (on the title cut) to teen songstress Sonya Kitchell. Speaking of Ms. Kitchell, you’re going to love this, boss: here’s Sonya, just old enough to vote in this election, teaming up with Susan to write a song like “People” — a “What’s Goin’ On” for our times. Could’ve been the HeadCount rally song, for sure.

Production is fullsounding throughout the album (occasional “Tumbling Dice” vocal choruses and just-right horn parts), but it all comes across as organic and waiting to be laid down in a live setting without losing a thing.

So, that’s how I see it, boss. When Derek’s band releases their album, we’ll talk about that, but for now I think we should just run with Back To The River. It’s a great piece of work.

What do you say?

Your humble servant,


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