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Digging through the bins: Tedeschi Truck Band's family affair

I'll admit it.

When Derek Trucks abandoned his Derek Trucks Band to form the Tedeschi Trucks Band with his wife, Susan Tedeschi, in 2010, I felt a tinge of disappointment. Not because the new venture lacked musical muscle – it certainly proved otherwise right out of the gate, and since I was already a fan of Tedeschi's work, it wasn't hard to get on board. But the DTB had been so mind-bendingly incredible, so unlike anything else happening on the "jam" (awful word) scene, and such a wonderful vehicle for Trucks' mind-expanding blend of deep blues, Ali Akbar Khan-inspired Indian modalities, and later-period Coltrane-ish sonic explorations that it was sad to see the band go. (Singer Mike Mattison sang his butt off in that band, too.)

The Tedeschi Trucks Band at first played things a bit more "straight" – soul, R&B, blues, none of the Indian modal stuff, less of a "jammy" feel. Fantastic sound, but if I'm telling the truth, I missed some of the exploratory ethos the earlier band adhered to.

Seven years later, the TTB has hit its stride. In fact, that might be under-selling the sense of evolutionary possibility that is made flesh all throughout the brand new "Live From the Fox Oakland" (Concord) album and film. Elements of jazz-informed improvisation have returned, but that would not mean as much if not for the absolute ferocity of the whole ensemble, a 12-piece outfit that seems to move and breathe as a single organism.

The heart of that organism is Tedeschi, one of the most soulful singers you'll hear on any stage in the present day, and a tasteful, incisive guitarist in her own right. Watch the film. There's no flash, no dancers, no over-the-top Earth Mother symbolism here, and only a fool would miss them. Just an incredible musician who also happens to be a mother, spouse, and keeper of a family's flame, fronting a band that is on the road far more often than it is at home. True self-empowerment and actualization don't need to announce themselves. They just are.

Behind Tedeschi and Trucks stands an ensemble that includes keyboardist Kofi Burbridge, drummers Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson, bassist Tim Lefebvre, vocalists Mike Mattison, Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour, saxophonist Kebbi Williams, trombonist Elizabeth lea and trumpeter Ephraim Owens. Trucks has likened running this massive group as "attempting to herd cats," but the amount of subtlety, dynamic interplay and light/shade manipulation suggests that everyone on stage knows they're there to support something much larger than themselves. The rhythm section in particular is stunning throughout . Twin drummers Greenwell and Johnson play as one, harnessing thunder and showing it who's boss, while bassist Lefebvre – a singular talent whose work with the likes of the Donny McCaslin Quartet, Knower, and David Bowie ("Blackstar") goes a long way toward redefining the role of the electric bass in modern music – somehow sits deep in the pocket while crafting lines and creating sounds that challenge that pocket. It's all virtuosic, but it never bashes you over the head with that fact.

The setlist for both film (which was produced and directed by Jesse Lauter and Grant James)  and album (mixed to an old-school Neve console and mastered/5.1 surround-sound mixed by the great Bob Ludwig) are representative of what the band sounded like during the tour behind 2016's "Let Me Get By," and there are some riveting covers peppered throughout, including a gospel-infused version of Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire" that is a showcase for Tedeschi's gorgeously smoky singing. The performances are routinely inspired, and close listening reveals more delightful ear candy with each successive spin. Taken together, the album and film suggests that there is no finer American band than the Tedeschi Trucks ensemble once the lights go down, the feet hit the floor, and the work needs to be done.

"There's no ceiling," Trucks tells interviewer Marc Maron (of WTF Podcast fame) during the documentary. "I haven’t found the ceiling yet."

Keep reaching for it.





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