Susan Tedeschi didn’t start writing songs just this year. All her albums, save the 2005 covers set Hope And Desire, feature originals, some of them co-written. But Back To The River marks the first time she has ventured into the more exacting territory of social commentary, and she had a hand in writing every song but one.
Tedeschi’s fifth studio album (and second for Verve Forecast) is, in a sense, about trying to live at peace with the world on the road that is, away from the Florida home she shares with her slide guitarist husband Derek Trucks and their two children.
Songs such as “700 Houses” and “Revolutionize Your Soul” (both written with John Leventhal) and “People” (written with Sonya Kitchell) are meant as inspirational calls to action. But their messages never quite gain traction in terms of tangible substance, nor do their slightly underheated melodies give much to Tedeschi’s powerful vocal delivery.
Still, there are several moments when the balance between singing and song seems just right, and those all tend toward the muscular, syncopated grooves and gritty attack of late ’60s and early ’70s funk, when attitude was everything. “Talking About” is one such example; the title track, with its swampy, psychedelic wah-wah, is another. (Not coincidentally, she wrote the latter song with Tony Joe White.) The one cover is a potent re-reading of Allen Toussaint’s “There’s A Break In The Road”, which Betty Harris recorded in 1969.
Subtlety has never really been Tedeschi’s bag; her forte is sparking fierce heat with raw-throated belting. And, as portions of Back To The River prove, her R&B punch hits harder when the whole track feels just as physical as her singing.