The ’70s were the heyday of the live rock ‘n roll album: Band of Gypsies, Live at Leeds, The Doors Absolutely Live, Steppenwolf Live, and the Woodstock soundtrack all were released in 1970 alone. And the trend continued throughout the decade, to the extent that the “double live album” became a ’70s cliché.
You may not have realized they still make albums like Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Everybody’s Talkin’. In this age of Auto-Tune/brick wall limiting/Pro Tools, it’s rare to encounter a live recording that doesn’t sound aridly vacuum-packed and digitally enhanced to the point where you can practically hear the ones and zeros whizzing past your ears. From its title to the cover songs to the performances, Everybody’s Talkin’ is a throwback in all the best ways, a warm-sounding concert document, a “record” we would have called “organic” back in the days when people still used words like “ecology” and politicians pretended to care about it.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band (aka TTB) would have thrived in the bygone glory days of the live album. One of Everybody’s Talkin’s direct antecedents is 1971’s At Fillmore East, the double live album that put The Allman Brothers Band on the map, eventually going platinum. That epic set allowed the band to stretch out on the extended blues-influenced jams that cemented guitarist Duane Allman’s place in rock immortality (Its album jacket also depicts Duane hastily concealing the smack he’d just scored, putting the rest of the band in stitches). Derek Trucks—nephew of Allman’s drummer, Butch Trucks, and himself a member of the Allmans during the ’90s—is already established as one of the finest slide guitarists of our time. This album will only enhance that reputation.
Everybody’s Talkin’ marks the TTBs first anniversary with a two CD (or three l.p.) set, recorded last October while the band toured behind their Grammy-winning debut album, Revelator. Although this is technically a new group, Susan Tedeschi (guitar and vocals) and Trucks, who are wife and husband, each fronted bands of their own and, together led Soul Stew Revival, a mashup of both their bands.
From the band roster, you might think they included everybody from both their previous groups in this one: they bring on eleven players, including horns and two drummers, when they take the stage. Group photos of the TTB may lead you to expect the barely-harnessed chaos of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen band, to toss out another live ’70s album touchstone. Despite the hefty roster, this band doesn’t bludgeon the listener with a monolithic wall of sound, as the Cocker band could. TTBs approach is much more subtle, making effective use of quiet-loud/ebb-and-flow dynamics to keep their often-epic-length songs exciting.
Everybody’s Talkin’s eleven songs include three from Revelator that have become TTB concert standards: the flowing, soulful “Midnight in Harlem”; the wickedly grooving gospel of “Bound for Glory”; and “Love Has Something Else to Say,” sounding like the best Sly & The Family Stone cut since Fresh. Of the covers, seeing “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” on the set list might smack of cliché for a band with this one’s blues roots, until you hear the Allmanesque riff that drives this take on the Elmore James chestnut, breathing new life into a played-out standard.
Only on the sprawling slow jam “That Did It” (by Bobby “Blue” Bland) does the TTB come close to being one of those stereotypical “blooze” band, grinding out the same hackneyed riffs and tired changes as thousands of other crappy bars bands. This band ain’t about to let that happen here. Tedeschi’s scorching vocals and the band’s finesse and power make it into a smoking, go-for-broke workout. You know that friend of yours who turns up his nose at any blues recorded since Robert Johnson had to make good on his crossroads deal? This is the track you play for that “blues purist” knucklehead.
The Fred Neil title track, of which we needed another cover about as badly as we needed another rendition of “Stormy Monday,” is a real stunner, replacing the plaintive vocal and gently loping tempo of Nilsson’s hit version with the shuffling vibe of Bonnie & Delaney’s “Only You Know and I Know.” Their novel, spunky retooling of an overworked oldie of “Everybody’s Talkin’” leads to the notion that a full album of ’60s and ’70s covers might be a good step for Tedeschi and Trucks, if they ever come up short on original material.
It’s tough to fault their other cover selections, too. Not a lot of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s songbook has lent itself to satisfactory covers—any category that includes Helen Reddy, Doris Day, and Slade is bound to be problematic—and “Darling Be Home Soon,” surprisingly, may be the one most often successfully covered. And yet, inessential as another rendition might have seemed, Susan Tedeschi’s ability as a stylist and the band’s feel for the song’s soul trumps Joe Cocker’s version as the definitive cover.
Tedeschi’s voice is a great instrument, but don’t go thinking her guitar is some mere prop, bub. Her rhythm playing not only drives the chugging “Love Has Something Else to Say,” she throws down a smokin’ solo, too. And she can play a wah-wah pedal in heels. (Search YouTube for their 2910 Crossroads Guitar Fest performance. You’ll thank me. Profusely.) Susan cuts loose on several other tracks, too, and both she and Derek give the horns and keyboards plenty of solo shots, avoiding the guitar wank overload that pushed so many of the ’70s live albums over into endurance test territory. (The one drum solo is just short enough to avoid rendering the egalitarian approach questionable … just.)
The Tedeschi Trucks Band, in all its incarnations, has earned itself a legion of devoted followers through its roadwork, and their studio album only made that fan base hungry for more. Consequently, some have grumbled at the lack of a new studio album. Unlike those “contractual obligation” live sets that were another ’70s rock staple, Everybody’s Talkin’ is every bit as essential as Revelator.
This is a concert album that’s so authentic to the spirit of the great ones from the 1970s, you may expect to get a lap full of pot seeds when you open it up. But it’s worth opening even if you don’t.Powered by Sidelines