The key to the success of this sprawling 10-12 member outfit is that the music never feels as big as the ensemble performing it. And because we’re talking about classic soul, that smaller sound works perfectly since it’s married to an approach that shouldn’t overwhelm to deliver the biggest bang for the buck.
The group’s third album in two years, and its second studio release, feels remarkably relaxed even with its three piece horn section, backing vocals, multi-talented members and Trucks’ ever present, patented slide guitar solos. Anyone who has seen this collective take flight on stage or heard last year’s double live set knows improvisation is a major aspect of their appeal. But here they keep the songs lean, tough and relatively compact, reigning in Trucks’ more expansive slide tendencies in favor of nailing tight, tough arrangements featuring Tedeschi’s gutsy vocals.
The brass adds swampy Southern Muscle Shoals and Stax grit but are often under mixed and used surprisingly sparingly. Similarly, co-lead singer Mike Mattison pens the liner notes but is practically MIA throughout, sharing one vocal and relegated to faceless backing for the rest.
Regardless, this is riveting soul, R&B and funk, slightly retro but refreshingly free of the hip-hop that often mars similar efforts in an attempt to appeal to contemporary ears and radio outlets. Susan Tedeschi is a distinctive and commanding vocal front woman, Derek Trucks’ slide lines bring the red clay groove and when the group does finally let loose on the nearly seven minute grind of “The Storm,” there is little doubt about how fluently they can summon their inner jam mojo and ride it with loose, limber precision.