Tedeschi Trucks Band: Signs

Tedeschi Trucks Band
Signs
(Fantasy Records)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

There’s a reason the Tedeschi Trucks Band dubs their extensive yearly road jaunt the Wheels Of Soul tour. Even with the eclectic music the sprawling 12-piece band encompasses (rock, gospel, jazz, blues), soul remains at the heart of its sound. On stage, the wildly talented ensemble extends, expands and enhances even weaker material with their extraordinary improvisational skills. Shoehorning that experience into the studio is another matter.

Release number four — there are also two multi-disc live sets — is dedicated to “friend and mentor” Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.) who passed in 2017. It takes three producers to mold these 11 selections into comparatively shorter, more compact pieces that stand on their own merits without the live embellishments. The results are mixed but generally successful as strings are occasionally added to the already weighty instrumentation that includes three horns, three backing singers and two drummers.

The opening swamp-rock title track diverts some vocals away from frontwoman Susan Tedeschi to the backing singers who are otherwise relegated to faceless support. It chugs along with the band churning away on one of the disc’s political statements (“Don’t give into the lies they make”), but for everyone’s best efforts doesn’t leave much of an impression. The similar lyrical approach of “Shame” fares better but is also overly busy with horns blaring and too much thrown into the stew. Ballads such as the touching “Still Your Mind,” and especially the churchy “All The World,” where the dynamics are better arranged with a less aggressive approach, deliver additional bang with less firepower. 

Each musician contributes, although not surprisingly, Tedeschi’s powerful gritty vocals and Trucks’ trademarked, often rib-rattling guitar get the most attention. Some songs suffer from being underwritten and overplayed. Still, there are enough impressive moments to ensure that, at least on stage, they will detonate with the passion and soul the Tedeschi Trucks band generates at every show.