She says she was misquoted. She didn't set out to do a soul record--just a soulful one. "I wanted to make a record with a lot of soul in it," says Susan Tedeschi of her latest Verve release, Hope and Desire. In a publicity release, Verve had her saying that what she was going for was to make a great soul record. "But if that is a quote and I gotta stand by it, then I would say it doesn't matter what tunes it is as long as you sing 'em in a soulful manner."
Tedeschi succeeded spectacularly. From her cover of the Stones' "You've Got The Silver" to Fontella Bass's "Soul Of A Man" to Bob Dylan's "Lord Protect My Child," Tedeschi sounds like she's pouring alcohol on a raw wound--you can feel the hurt.
She's always been able to deliver the goods emotionally. On 1998's Grammy nominated Just Won't Burn, she blisters Ruth Brown's "Mama, She Treats Your Daughter Mean" and nails John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery." Her debut, 1995's Better Days, provided a glimpse of her vocal strengths with her version of Elmore James' "It Hurts Me Too" and a rendition of "Hound Dog" that would have done Big Mama Thornton proud.
But nothing she's done in the past comes up to the level she attains on Hope and Desire. The record is reminiscent of 1972's Duane Allman Anthology. Not just because husband Derek Trucks is doing some Duane channeling but because Tedeschi has caught the fire and fervor that Aretha Franklin brought to the anthology when she covered The Band's "The Weight." Tedeschi's speaking voice sounds like a breathy, shy little girl, but morphs into Big Mama Pig Foot when she sings. On Aretha's "Share Your Love With Me," she's not impersonating Aretha, she's consumed by her. It's not the sound, but the feeling.
This record is also a bit of a departure. In the past her guitar was featured as much as her voice. On this one, she doesn't play guitar--she just contributes vocals. "One of the things the label really wanted to get across people was that I am a singer," Tedeschi says. "And I've always been a singer, and they really wanted me to focus on that instead of playing guitar. Because when you play guitar and sing, it does take a little away from one or the other. So when you just focus on just one of them it comes across a lot more intensely."
Tedeschi's delivery and choice of material even impressed the Five Blind Boys, who offered to sing on the record when they discovered she was covering the late rockabilly artist Dorsey Burnett's "Magnificent Sanctuary Band."
"We ended up going on tour (with them) this past August for a month," the singer says. "They came and sang on that song as well as "Lord Protect My Child" (Bob Dylan's gospel tinged soul prayer, also on the CD) live, and it was incredible getting to play with them every night."
With Tedeschi and the Blind Boys taking care of vocals, the guitar end was well-managed by Trucks and Doyle Bramhall II, a teenage member of the T-Birds and whose drummer dad worked with Lightnin' Hopkins.
Tedeschi liked the concept of doing the tracks without having to play guitar first so much she wants to continue the process. "My vocal usually really influences the energy and the arrangement of the band. Just playing guitar parts on it, there's no real inspiration behind it, so I think I'll definitely go with that feel next time."
Susan Tedeschi plays the Cat's Cradle with The Gourds on Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 at the door.