I’ve said it multiple times. In fact, I say it as often as I get the opportunity; Tedeschi Trucks Band is the best band touring on any given night. But in all honesty, that ability to set fire to the stage doesn’t often extend to the recording studio for many bands. Nothing could be further from the truth for TTB, and their fourth studio album Signs released 2/15 on Fantasy Records is a bold testament to this fact. Tedeschi Trucks Band continues to be inventive and innovative, all while remaining true to the traditions they so obviously respect and revere. The fact that they’re able to compose and complete an album of this magnitude all the while touring as much as they do is nothing short of amazing.
The album was recorded in Derek and Susan’s Swamp Raga studios and created with a teamlike effort, with Derek, Jim Scott and Bobby Tis sharing the production duties. Signs was recorded utilizing a Neve console and recorded to two inch analog tape on a vintage 1970’s Studer tape machine. The result is an album that’s warm, rich in nuances, and possessing ambiance unheralded in this era of overabundant technology. The band has faced some mighty emotional hurdles since the release of their last album, 2016’s Let Me Get By with the passing of Derek’s uncle Butch Trucks, and Gregg Allman, as well as Leon Russell, Col. Bruce Hampton and more. As a result, Signs is an album that tackles the burdens and weightof loss, yet maintains a perseverant optimism that everything is going to ultimately to work out and be just as it’s supposed to be. Signs exposes vulnerability and grief, while showing a pathway to a happier place.
The album kicks off funky with, “Signs, High Times.” Vocalist Susan Tedeschi’s signature powerful vocals are joined by Mike Mattison as well as the backing vocalists Alecia Chakour and Mark Rivers giving the song a distinctive group effort right off the bat. When Susan sings, “Got turned around, following the sound of a heartbeat that’s been getting heavy, we’ve been here before, we were just getting ready,” you understand, and you feel the emotion and the weight of a burden collectively felt. Then, like an epiphany, “I’m Going To Be There” follows and brightens the mood with hope in a sultry, slow sincere way. It’s a song of reassurance that effectively balances the weight of the previous song. This is a theme constant throughout “Signs”; pain and trouble laid bare, then healed. Next we have, “When Will I Begin,” a plaintive hope to be free of these burdens both real and imagined, only to be followed by the reassurance and companionship of “Walk Through This Life.”
From Tedeschi’s mighty vocal power, to the expressive horns of Kebbi Williams, Eprhaim Owens and Elizabeth Lea, the strength of Tedeschi Trucks Band lies in its many voices. Perhaps that’s never as apparent as when the guitar work of Trucks takes its place in the spotlight, but there’s a chemistry constantly at work here that seems to bestow life to the music. Tedeschi says:
This is a special group of musicians. All of these people we play with are extremely talented, and each of them could easily be fronting their own outfit. Everybody is so gifted, and we all realize how special this band is. We’re not going to mess it up. We’re going to keep working hard at it and move forward.
Taking its place at the midway point of the album, “Strengthen What Remains” feels somewhat like a circling of the wagons in a way. The song instills hope in a laid back manner that lets you know these storms are going to pass. Tedeschi sings, “Oh, what a beautiful season, Oh, take a look in the sky Oh, I can give you a reason Oh, it’s a beautiful life.” As Kofi Burbridge’s hauntingly beautiful flute accentuates the subtle strings. It’s the shortest song on the album, but perhaps the one of most importance.
“Still Your Mind” begins with a restrained power, highlighting Burbridge’s rolling piano notes, but doesn’t stay subdued for long. Tim Lefebrve’s (who has since left the band to work on other projects) bass notes begin to dance about as Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson lay a thunderous foundation. Chalk full of adventurous chord progressions and tempo changes, this song showcases the full gamut of influences the band collectively embraces. Derek’s solo snakes in like a ray of sunlight, parting the clouds, bright and full before twisting and turning gritty and raw, covering an unbelievable amount of ground like a man seeking truth. I can absolutely see this song becoming quite the highlight in the live setlist. It’s my personal highlight from the album.
The album continues the theme of loss and hope before closing with “The Ending”. A song for Col. Bruce Hampton, it’s a simple, heartfelt song, presented acoustically and beautifully. Ultimately it’s a testament to the importance of friendships and mentors, and brings us full circle with closure. I always think there’s no way a band can outdo what they did on previous albums. I’ll be damned if I don’t enjoy being proven wrong in situations like this. “Signs” does just that and more. From its stunning cover art to its regal sound, Its an album that feels like another chapter to the stories already narrated. Whether that tale is in the magic of their live performances, or the understated beauty that is their recorded work, Tedeschi Trucks Band is an important voice right now. All we need to do is listen, and feel. As Tedeschi expresses in “All The World”, “All the world is bleeding, I can feel it and I have seen it, but while our hearts are beating, we can heal it, if we mean it.” No truer words have been spoken. There’s still hope.
Sadly, Signs became even more reflective and important as longtime Trucks collaborator and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Kofi Burbridge passed away the day the album was released following health trouble the past several years. Ever the consummate professionals, Tedeschi Trucks Band tackled their grief and shared the hope of healing with their fans. The show must go on they say, and the band did just that. Our own Jason Davidson, saw the band for the first time during the recent Ryman shows. His review of that performance can be found here: https://americanahighways.org/2019/02/14/show-review-tedeschi-trucks-at-the-ryman/
Signs is available now and can be purchased via Fantasy Records here: http://fantasyrecordings.com/
Information on Tedeschi Trucks Band including tour dates and merchandise is available here: https://www.tedeschitrucksband.com/