Tedeschi Trucks Band is, and always has been, a group intent on moving forward. Their new album, Signs, offers an outstanding example of their ability to expand musical boundaries in ways that only a rare caliber of musician can achieve, while delivering heartfelt songwriting with credence and conviction. Slated for release in February 2019 on Fantasy Records, Signs showcases the band at their best – combining inventive musicality and provocative lyrics across eleven original tracks, running the gamut from uplifting soulful anthems, to bittersweet ballads and driving rock and roll. These are songs for these times, with a sound and message that taps tradition while also extending the edges of American music with a genre defying collection that is all their own.
Their fourth studio record since forming in 2010, Signs is a true band effort, with each of the supremely talented twelve members playing a major role. The bulk of the songwriting is shared among the band, with additional contributions from close friends and frequent collaborators Warren Haynes, Oliver Wood and Doyle Bramhall II. In an era of commercial-focused collaborations TTB’s steadfast family approach rings clear. While Derek’s stinging fretwork and Susan’s emotive, expressive vocals are naturally front and center, the tracks are propelled by superior keyboard work, ingenious brass parts, powerful harmony vocals, and a dynamite rhythm section underscoring it all.
As with prior albums, Signs was recorded in Derek and Susan’s home studio Swamp Raga, with Derek, Jim Scott and Bobby Tis taking charge of the production. All three sharing recording, mixing, and producer duties. To ensure that the album’s sound matched their uncompromising attention to audio quality, they departed from prior studio efforts and recorded Signs on two-inch analogue tape, using their original Neve console combined with a 70s’ Studer tape machine, giving it a warmth and richness that recalls the ambience of the best vintage recordings.
Signs also finds the band pushing their artistry lyrically and delivers a powerful message in the midst of some troubled and tempestuous times. Political polarization, intolerance and divisiveness, and threats to an environment increasingly under siege are dealt with openly and honestly. Derek and Susan, ardent environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts are closely connected and concerned regarding the latter. In “Shame,” the band doesn’t shy away from expressing emotional frustration about the current atmosphere and division in America:
“Shame, there’s poison in the well
Shame, you know we can’t unring the bell Though I tried
Oh to let it all fall away,
Oh but sometimes I, I hear exactly what you say”
“It gets really tricky,” Susan says. We have to get rid of this wrecking ball mentality and remember that we’re all in this together,” she adds. “We all come from different places, but our dreams and aspirations are mostly the same.”
As numerous tragedies hit home during the recording of Signs, a sense of loss unsurprisingly seeped into their work. The passing of friends and family members like Derek’s uncle and Allman Brothers alumnus Butch Trucks, the Allmans’ heroic helmsman Gregg Allman, and iconic collaborators and friends like Leon Russell, B.B. King, and Colonel Bruce Hampton had a profound impact on the group. That grief reveals itself repeatedly throughout the album, but never more than on its concluding song, “The Ending.”
It’s a tribute to Col. Bruce Hampton, who was as a mentor, bandleader and spiritual guide for many TTB members, that serves as Signs’ grand crescendo. Through a sparse arrangement and poignant vocals from Susan, the song details Hampton’s final moments spent onstage and in this world. While performing with Derek and Susan and a wealth of other musicians that loved him, he collapsed during the encore of his 70th birthday event, ending a storied life and oft unsung legacy. “The Ending” is TTB’s attempt to make sense of this painful event and to pay tribute to the enduring memories and gifts he left in his wake.
“Without Susan’s voice, it would be so hard to pull these songs together,” Derek reflects when discussing “The Ending” and album on the whole. “The emotion she conveys through these songs is so real. That’s something you just can’t fake.”
Still, Signs doesn’t dwell on darkness and despair, it beckons with the optimism and hope that has become a signature part of TTB’s message in the studio and on stage. In “I’m Gonna Be There,” a message of reassurance shines “through the thunder and the rain,” while “Strengthen What Remains” is a plea to remember all the beauty that life has to offer:
“Oh, what a beautiful season Oh, take a look in the sky Oh, I can give you a reason Oh, it’s a beautiful life”
“We are very lucky to do what we do, and we take responsibility for creating something positive to counter all the negativity,” asserts Susan. “We have to deal with tragic circumstances at times. As a musician, I feel it’s my job to go out and kick ass the best I can and offer inspiration with passion in my voice and a smile on my face. That’s the only way you can give people hope, through motivation and positivity.”
With commanding performances and emotional honesty throughout, Signs makes a definitive statement from one of the industry’s most respected bands.
“This is the first record I’ve made where, when I listen to it, it puts me in a specific place,” Derek reflects. “It puts me in a zone and hits some raw nerves. People may not necessarily know about chord changes and how to articulate an arrangement, but they do know what matters and when you mean it.”
Tedeschi Trucks Band commitment to their craft is exemplified by the group’s relentless road schedule. 2018 opened with a series of growing multi-night residencies that brought them to prestigious settings such as The Chicago Theater, the Warner Theatre in Washington D.C. and the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, as well as two-night stands in L.A., San Francisco and Seattle.
Even with the time it’s taken to prepare their upcoming album, on top of their packed tour schedule, Derek and Susan have become in-demand studio players, lending their talents to others via appearances on any number of highly anticipated albums.
Derek plied his guitar skills on recent efforts by Eric Clapton and Wynona Judd while Susan lent her vocal abilities to John Prine’s highly regarded album For Better, Or Worse as well as a duet for Eric Church’s acclaimed Mr. Misunderstand.
During the summer TTB launched their fourth installment of their annual Wheels of Soul tour, a traveling festival curated and headlined by TTB with a different lineup each year, featuring in 2018 the Drive by Truckers and rising soulful rockers, the Marcus King Band. TTB’s Wheels of Soul has established a yearly must-see tour based on the unique selection of likeminded artists who play individual sets while collaborating nightly in each other’s performances to create performances that provide spontaneous moments and song selections providing a feeling of one big musical family sharing the fun they’re having onstage each night with the fans.
TTB finished 2018 strong playing multiple dates with Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Music Festival, six sold out shows at New York’s Beacon Theater, and three shows in Susan’s hometown of Boston at the Orpheum to end the year.
“This band is really good at reinvented themselves every night,” Derek insists. “That’s how you keep things fresh. You don’t want to abandon the sentiment of a song, but you do want to be able to expand on it in new and exciting ways.”
“Derek is such a great leader,” Susan says of her husband. “He’s an old soul who is very passionate and gifted, one of the best guitarists in the world. He’s a big reason why this thing works. He gives people the confidence that they can succeed.”
Like each of their highly acclaimed earlier albums – GRAMMY-winning Revelator (2010), the live Everybody’s Talkin’ (2012), Made Up My Mind (2013), Let Me Get By (2016), and their combination concert film and CD Live From The Fox Oakland (2017) – TTB has always been adept at translating their remarkable skills and exceptional musical chemistry from stage to the studio, no easy task for any band that travels such wide and varied musical terrain.
“This is a special group of musicians,” Susan says in summary. “All of these people we play with are extremely talented, and each of them could easily be fronting their own outfit. Everybody is so gifted, and we all realize how special this band is. We’re not going to mess it up. We’re going to keep working hard at it and move it forward.”