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CD of the Week: Susan Tedeschi – “Hope and Desire”

June 22, 2007

Hope and Desire

My brother and I had an interesting conversation last weekend. We are both music freaks, and he observed something about himself that is true of both of us lately.

“If you ask me to describe what kind of music I like best, I have to say it’s singer-songwriters,” he said. I know that to be true of him. Tori Amos, Sarah McLaughlin, Matthew Sweet, Lyle Lovett, John Prine, Nanci Griffith, Elvis Costello, and bands fronted by songwriters (Wilco, Son Volt, U2) are in frequent rotation at his house. His tastes are as diverse as mine (though I have a stronger devotion to blues and the Beatles). “But lately it seems like my favorite albums are singer-songwriters doing covers!”

He and I throw a lot of music back and forth, and he’s right. Lately we do like albums of covers by singer-songwriters. “Under the Covers, Volume 1” by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs; “Standard Songs for Average People” by John Prine and Mac Wiseman; “Countrypolitan Favorites” by Southern Culture on the Skids; “The Seeger Sessions” by Bruce Springsteen; The Little Willies (Norah Jones’ side project) all fit that bill. And I can’t get enough of ’em.

We traced that phenomenon back (while songwriters doing albums of covers is a long-standing tradition in rock and country music) to a seminal album in our collections: “Other Voices, Other Rooms” by Nanci Griffith. What attracts us to those albums? These artists have impeccable taste – that’s why they are such great songwriters! Lyle Lovett didn’t get great by listening to crap; he had to listen to lots of Townes Van Zant and Guy Clark (see Lovett’s great covers collection “Step Inside This House.”) The artists also frequently sound like they’re having a blast recording music they’ve loved for so long.

I fell in love with Susan Tedeschi’s music years ago, shortly after hearing the buzz about “Just Won’t Burn.” Her sultry Bonnie Raitt-like voice, her rough-and-tumble blues guitar (not to mention that her tone comes from a Telecaster through a small Fender amp – and there is NOTHING that sounds better than a Telecaster through a small Fender amp!), and her blend of well-written originals and perfectly chosen covers make for great listening. Especially in the car. Especially in the summer with the sunroof open and the volume cranked.

“Hope and Desire” represents a departure for Susan. All the songs are covers, centered around the themes of, you guessed it, hope and desire – from religious hope to sexual desire and everything in between. She leaves the Tele in the stand, relying upon Doyle Bramhall II and her husband, the so-talented-it’s-scary Derek Trucks to provide the guitar work.

The result? This album is a gem. It begins with what might be the album’s most familiar tune, the Rolling Stones’ “You Got the Silver.” It takes guts to try to claim a song from the Stones’ prime. Rather than try to out-stones the Stones, she instead opts to almost Allman Brothers it – and Trucks’ slide solo is a thing of real passion and beauty. She caresses, seduces, howls, and smashes her way through the Dylan chestnut “Lord Protect My Child,” Otis Redding’s “Security,” Aretha’s “Share Your Love With Me,” and the gospel-themed “Magnificent Sanctuary Band.” Along the way, she collects “Evidence” of a cheating lover, laments fiercely that “The Danger Zone” is everywhere (GREAT blues cover), sings the praises of “Sweet Forgiveness,” and sings that “Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever.” Her seamless blend of the familiar and the obscure makes the album feel fresh, new and exciting.

Susan displays great mastery over her “other” instrument – her voice – while the guests’ guitar tones are perfect for the tunes and the licks are soulful and tasteful. The pianos, drums, and bass all have just the right swing and feel.

Highly recommended.

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