Susan Tedeschi – Family style
Susan Tedeschi’s last studio album was called Wait For Me. She meant it, apparently. For the past three years, she has been busy with steady touring, assorted musical collaborations and, not least, the establishment of a full-blown family life. She married fellow guitar-slinger Derek Trucks in 2002, and they now have two children. A phone interview with Tedeschi at their home in Jacksonville, Florida, is punctuated by periodic interruptions from Charlie, 3, and Sophia, 1, which Tedeschi handles with maternal good humor.
“It’s good,” she says of her frenetic homefront. “It’s kind of crazy, with three bands between the two of us, and two kids.” Trucks plays both with his own band and with the current iteration of the Allman Brothers, which keeps him on the road for long stretches of the year.
So it’s little wonder it took until now for a new Tedeschi release, Hope And Desire, her fourth overall and her first for the Verve Forecast label. Even the recording and format of the album, which came out in October, were partly dictated by domestic concerns.
“We were kind of pressed for time making the record, because I was pregnant when I was signed,” she says. By the time the recording rolled around, Sophia had been born.
Originally, it was supposed to be a collection of new songs, which Tedeschi had been writing over the past few years. But then the producer slated for the sessions got pulled away by other demands, and the project had to be recalibrated quickly. At the urging of Trucks and his Allman colleague Warren Haynes, Tedeschi met with inventive singer/songwriter/producer Joe Henry. She liked what she knew of his work, especially his production on Solomon Burke’s 2002 comeback Don’t Give Up On Me. That album’s warm southern soul vibe, classic without feeling retro, seemed like a good match for Tedeschi’s bluesy R&B inclinations.
But Henry proposed working with his own stable of studio favorites rather than Tedeschi’s touring band, and given the time constraints between the label’s expectations and Tedeschi’s other concerns, a simple idea took hold: an album of classic soul tunes, with both “classic” and “soul” defined broadly.
Tedeschi says the song selection came from brainstorming sessions; Henry, her husband, and others suggested candidates. To further facilitate the recording, she decided to concentrate on singing and not play guitar. “Singing I can learn in 30 seconds,” she says, “but guitar playing while you’re singing is a whole other thing.”
That also made it easier to record the album mostly live, with Tedeschi singing right alongside a band that included Doyle Bramhall II on guitar, Paul Bryan on bass, Jay Bellerose on drums, and Jebin Bruni and David Palmer on keyboards. Trucks overdubbed guitar parts on three songs, and backing vocals were also added later, but most of what’s on Hope And Desire was played together in the studio. “It was probably the most fun I’ve had making a record,” Tedeschi says.
The songs are an interesting assortment of lesser-known tunes by well-known writers and singers. “I wanted to do more obscure tunes that people didn’t know,” she explains. For example, she’d never heard Bob Dylan’s “Lord Protect My Child”, an outtake from the Infidels sessions that was released on Dylan’s bootleg box set. Tedeschi sings it as a straight gospel tune, supplicating but also a little fearful.
It’s typical of the album that the Rolling Stones cover Tedeschi chose, “You Got The Silver”, was a Keith Richards lead vocal (his first) from Let It Bleed. Also included are Iris DeMent’s “Sweet Forgiveness”, Otis Redding’s “Security” and Dorsey Burnette’s gospel groove “Magnificent Sanctuary Band”, which was a signature tune of the late Donny Hathaway.
A lesser singer might be undone by trying to compete with the original artists (who also include Aretha Franklin and Fontella Bass), but Tedeschi takes the material on its own terms. She has one of those big voices that can comfortably wear any cliched adjective you throw at it (brassy, sassy, smoky, smooth), but she’s canny enough to serve the songs rather than forcing herself on them.
“I don’t like over-singers,” she says. “I think it takes away from the melody and it takes away from the songs. I don’t try to showboat, whether I’m singing or playing guitar.”
She still plans to make the intended album of original material, maybe as soon as this winter, if she can somehow find the time. The week after we spoke, she was scheduled to go to Texas for a family get-together, of sorts. “I’m going to Austin to do a benefit for Katrina with Willie [Nelson] and a bunch of people,” she says. “And Derek’s doing ‘Austin City Limits’. I’m bringing the kids. So he can see them for three days, since he’s going to be in Austin for three days.”