One of the hottest live acts in United States, Tedeschi Trucks Band sit at the intersection of heritage and innovation. Their bluesy songcraft and soulful improvisational skills reach back to the birth of the Southern rock tradition in the late ’60s. Yet, as the outfit’s third and latest full-length Let Me Get By proves time and time again, they are progressive musicians devoted to steering that tradition into the 21st century. The marching -band gait
of “Right on Top” evokes archaic daguerreotypes of New Orleans, while at the same time being a stunning slice of modern art pop. The twang infesting “Just as Strange” strikes a delicate balance between Dust Bowl grit and modern Americana. And as the hard swaying title cut demonstrates, there exists no finer outfit when it comes to refreshing vintage Allman Brothers Band-style blues rock for modern ears.
Their bluesy songcraft and soulful improvisational skills reach back to the birth of the Southern rock tradition in the late ’60s.
The Allmans certainly loom large over husband-wife founders Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. It’s no overstatement to frame The Allmans as the wellspring from which the Tedeschi Trucks Band emerged. Not only is Trucks the nephew of original Allmans’ drummer Butch Trucks, but he also played guitar for them from 1999 until their retirement in 2014. When Trucks and Tedeschi began conceptualizing a joint venture a few years back, only one template made sense: an Allmans-style large ensemble that was visionary and diverse enough to synthesize the full spectrum of Southern music (from blues to rock, soul and country, to jazz and folk) into a fully integrated style.
The concept of integration — not only in terms of sound, but personnel as well — is central to the identity of the Tedeschi Trucks Band (as it was to The Allman Brothers Band, a mixed-race outfit that emerged from the deep South with a utopian-soaked combination of defiance and pride). The 12-person collective unites both black and white, as well as female and male musicians from a wide range of backgrounds. For instance, keyboardist and flute player Kofi Burbridge is steeped in classical and world music, while bassist Tim Lefebvre has recorded with the likes of Elvis Costello and the late David Bowie. Then there’s trombonist Elizabeth Lea, a session badass, who has worked with everyone from industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails to indie pop band Vampire Weekend.
The roots of this rich, rainbow stew can be traced back to 2009. At that point, Tedeschi and Trucks had achieved thriving solo careers. A graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music (where she sang in the gospel choir), the former had racked up a half dozen full-lengths, including 2008’s powerful Back to the River, en route to becoming one of the blues’ most highly revered vocalists. The latter, meanwhile, split time between the Allmans, the constantly touring Derek Trucks Band and a hectic session schedule. A sublime slide player inspired by Elmore James and (of course) Duane Allman, he was regularly hailed as one of the world’s greatest living guitarists. But despite the many individual accolades that poured in, both felt restless with their solo pursuits. Rather than carry on separately, they yearned to merge their careers just as they did their personal lives. The duo aimed to create a group wherein musicianship and kinship become one.
The newly formed Tedeschi Trucks Band hit the ground running. With two tour buses and a crew of approximately 22 (!), they racked up no less than 150 gigs a year. When they weren’t on the road, they were in the studio, hammering out albums: 2011’s Revelator and 2013’s Made Up Mind. Both garnered wide critical acclaim, with Rolling Stone’s David Fricke elevating their debut to the status of “meaty masterpiece.”
For all their earlier sonic excellence, however,* Let Me Get By* actually manages to top them. Unlike its predecessors — which in their efficiency and tidiness feel somewhat removed from the energy of the group’s sprawling live jams — the band’s latest finds them fully blending their studio craftsmanship and performative prowess. The gospel-stained “Laugh About It” is a gorgeously shuffling ballad that gradually blossoms into cresting horns and colossal slide-work courtesy of Trucks. “Crying Over You / Swamp Raga for Hozapfel, Lefebvre, Flute and Harmonium” is eight ambitious and entrancing minutes of Stax-spiked funk that dissolves in a wash of Indian-flavored drone. A deft balance of freewheeling exploration and intricate arranging, it manages to feel both spontaneous and meticulously mapped out.
But Let Me Get By is more than just a fantastic record. It’s a vital social statement. In a country that still struggles mightily to accept ideas like racial and gender equality, this uniquely Southern-fried music is an uplifting reminder of the amazing things that can happen when Americans of every stripe come together in the name of collective enterprise.