If the Tedeschi Trucks Band would put together a whole CD full of upbeat, stomping, party-worthy songs like "Anyhow," "Made Up Mind," "Down in the Flood," "Crow Jane" and "Come See About Me," I'd be a fan for life.
Their newest, LET ME GET BY (2016), is not that album.
But it's not bad at all.
It opens with the best track, "Anyhow," which starts with a stately piano theme and then just keeps building for six minutes -- and by the time the horns kick in it's a total freakin' knockout, the best thing I've heard in months, and the best use of horns in a rock band that I've heard in years.
I just wish the rest of the album was as good. It's not BAD -- when they hit a song just right, they're amazing. But I think when TTB doesn't absolutely nail a song, then you get a couple tunes that are OK, a couple that grow on you, and some that are just sort of average. Several probably sound better in concert.
This was especially true on their last album, MADE UP MIND, which included the knockout title song, the dramatic guitar showcase "The Storm," a kind of sloppy rocker called "Whiskey Legs" that grew on me, and a lot of fairly mellow stuff that I found easy to ignore. I called TTB "a Southern-Rock Fleetwood Mac" then.
I apologize. And though I still think there's a tendency to smooth off some rough edges here in an attempt to expand their audience, there's nothing here that's "too mellow." There's plenty of Susan Tedeschi's Bonnie Raitt-like vocals, lots of Derek Trucks's excellent guitar -- in fact, the whole band gets a chance to show what they can do. They have a big sound -- and they should, there's a dozen of them in the band now. And the results are sometimes unexpected.
The title song has great forceful choruses. "Crying Over You" has a lead vocal by Mike Mattison, and it's a nice break with some cute "ooh-ooh-ooh" choruses. The "Swamp Raga" for guitar, flute and harmonium is pleasant -- but to me it sounds like a 1968 Moody Blues outtake, something that might have been included in the more noodling parts of "Legend of a Mind." It's not bad, but it's not what you'd expect from this band. Some of the same feeling returns in the jam at the end of "I Want More," but with electric guitar added.
But the "Swamp Raga" works beautifully as a set-up for "Hear Me," a gorgeous, yearning, mournful almost-lost-love song that is the next-best-thing here. This could almost be a hit on current "smooth easy-listening" radio for grown-ups. But it's a better song than that.
"Don't Know What it Means" has enjoyable sing-along group-vocal choruses and a nice a-capella ending. It's also the second of two songs in a row that sort of address current issues, I think. "Right on Time" has an almost-'30s-music-hall sound. It could almost be a different band.
The other three songs are just kind of average, though the instrumental work and vocals are solid. They just don't jump out at me.
I wish I could be more positive -- the good stuff is really good, it's just that most of it didn't knock me out. I'd still go see TTB live and expect to be blown away. I'll also be waiting for a best-of, though it may be awhile before that happens. The Derek Trucks Band was on RCA, MADE UP MIND was on Sony Masterworks, and the new album is on Fantasy. Is this an indication that their CDs don't sell as well as the record companies would like? I don't know -- but these guys have a lot of talent. I'll still be listening in the future, and hoping for more knockouts like "Anyhow."