By now, we probably don’t need to tell you how terrific the Tedeschi Trucks Band is. If you’ve heard any of the band’s three studio albums, you’re already aware of just how nicely the sounds of this now-dozen member ensemble meld, whether they’re belting out an intriguing original or a creative interpretation on such classics as Joe Cocker’s “Space Captain” or Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight”. And if you’ve heard their first live release Everybody’s Talkin’ or ever had the good fortune of witnessing the band perform, you’ll of course be familiar with how much more captivating the band led by singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi and her guitar-slinging husband Derek Trucks (Allman Brothers Band, Eric Clapton) can be, given the opportunity to stretch their talents even further in time and direction.
So chances are that we needn’t spend a lot of time convincing you that the band’s newest album Live from the Fox Oakland (Fantasy Records) is also well worth a listen, featuring tracks from their latest studio project Let Me Get By as well as covers of songs from Leonard Cohen (the slow, soulful “Bird on the Wire”), the Beatles (the quiet Indian strains of “Within In, Without You”), Derek and the Dominos (a rootsy, 10-minute “Keep on Growing”), Miles Davis (a punchy, funky instrumental “Ali” that of course makes good use of horns in addition to guitar and drums), and blues masters such as Bobby “Blue” Bland (a soulfully passionate “I Pity the Fool” that finds Tedeschi digging in with tough, gritty vocals that would make the late Bland proud, buoyed further by some nice horns and guitar responses) and Sleepy John Estes (a shining, 10-minute “Leavin’ Trunk” that features some Taj Mahal-ish vocals from Mike Mattison and is soaked in funky grooves and searing guitar).
Recorded on a single night in early September 2016, the live double album (which is also available on DVD with just a few changes in tracks, swapping out four of the songs found on the CD for two additional covers, in George Jones’ “Color of the Blues” and Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”) captures the band’s latest incarnation, still featuring Tedeschi on lead vocals and guitar, Trucks on guitar, Kofi Burbridge on keyboards, Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson on drums, Mattison on backing and occasional lead vocals, Mark Rivers on backing vocals, and Kebbi Williams on sax, along with several new members since TTB’s previous live album in Tim Lefebvre on bass guitar, Alecia Chakour on backing vocals, Elizabeth Lea on trombone, and Ephraim Owens on trumpet.
Together, they tear through a fulfilling, diverse 15-song set, wasting no time getting into the swing of things with an opening “Don’t Know What It Means” that oozes with soul from its gritty guitar intro to its jazzy, cacophonous climax, driven by some particularly husky vocals from Tedeschi and a “Right Place, Wrong Time” kind of sway, and that serves as an early reminder that, regardless of whatever else they might throw at you, this band is often at its best when it’s jamming. The soft R&B of a Doyle Bramhall II co-written “Don’t Drift Away” is one of several tracks that allows Tedeschi to show the more tender side of her voice, along with a peaceful, nearly 12-minute “These Walls” on which the Indian vibe returns, with sarod master Alam Khan joining the band onstage for the first time to reprise his studio role from the earlier Revelator album, while songs like the minimalistic “Bird on the Wire” (on which Tedeschi is accompanied mainly by keyboards and gospelish backing vocals) and the breezy, serene “Anyhow” help demonstrate Tedeschi’s impressive range.
In addition to “Leavin’ Trunk”, Mattison handles lead vocals on two other tracks, rising to the higher end of the vocal scale with an R&Bish “Crying Over You” on which the band is again in full sync, and then taking things deeper for a lilting, David Bowie-like “Right on Time” that features some thick, groaning News Orleans style horns and Tedeschi on backing vocals.
The 14-and-a-half-minute “I Want More (Soul Sacrifice Outro)” starts with a hard-driving vintage R&B sound until the guitar really kicks in, growing more intense and then quieting back down to make room for Burbridge’s flute about nine minutes in, before culminating in a Jethro Tull-ish jam, offering some of the most rocking guitar you’ll hear on the album, along with that from the chugging “Just as Strange” that comes a bit earlier and the fantastic, improvised-sounding “Let Me Get By” that closes the program, with its jazzy, dark keys, Tedeschi’s husky vocals, and stinging guitar from Trucks, who also produced the album and, along with the band’s two engineers, “spent countless hours in our studio after the recording to bring the tracks to life and make sure you can hear all the energy and nuances, which isn’t easy with a 12 piece band.”
We may not ever be able to hear quite everything the Tedeschi Trucks Band has to offer through a recording, but Live from the Fox Oakland is close enough for us, at least until we get the chance to see them again. [Fortunately, they’ll be returning to the States (from the European part of their album tour) for a few more dates in May and early June and then hitting the road again in July on their annual Wheels of Soul tour, this time featuring The Wood Brothers and Hot Tuna.] Whether you’re seeing them again or for the very first time, the Tedeschi Trucks Band simply doesn’t disappoint, especially when it comes to live.