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Susan Tedeschi - Live from Austin, TX Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 May 2007
format:    16-bit CD / Dolby Digital 5.1 DVD
performance:    9
sound:    10
release year:    2007
label:    New West
reviewed by:    K L Poore

ImageSusan Tedeschi’s like the pretty woman (not the Julia Roberts type) who you find sitting in an overstuffed chair at your local coffee shop, reading a book and, periodically, peeking up over her glasses. Then some Avril Lavigne nonsense comes out over the P.A. and wow, bam, pow … UltraSinger, Protector of Music, pours out of her, bigger than life and ready to strike a blow for all that is good for our souls and ears.

Tedeschi’s powers were never more apparent than on her 2003 Live from Austin TX performance … the place where her secret identity was exposed, and she couldn’t go back. With a band as loosely tight, or tightly loose, as they needed to be, she roared out with Sly Stone’s “You Can Make It If You Try,” and never looked back. She sang like a power station running the full grid and played guitar like Hubert Sumlin mashed with Steve Cropper. Sure, she attempted to fool us with her sweetly meek “thank you”s after every song, but by the time she started in on the second cut we knew better.

STLFAT is a perfect example of why the Austin City Limits series (broadcast, CD and DVD) is a thing to be treasured. When confronted with the example of such a talented and highly underappreciated artist playing and singing in front of a sympathetic band and before an audience that gets it, you can’t help but re-evaluate your musical landscape. Is the new Chris Whitley & Jeff Lang release really good or is that wishful thinking? Is Avril’s single “Girlfriend” an example of everything that’s annoying in pseudo-music today, or is that too easy a target? Did Rod Stewart really sell out the Staples Center? Good music should force questions like these upon you, like opening your front door onto cold morning air. STLFAT forces these questions into your head. And in this case, UltraSinger may not answer them, but she sure gives you a direction in which to look. Up in the Sky! That is super power, my friends.
In writing this review I had two things I really wanted to do (or avoid as the case may be): I wanted to dodge the standard musical comparison that follows Tedeschi around, no matter how flattering she may find it to be. Clue: STLFAT ends with a beautiful version of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.” Susan Tedeschi is such a treasure to blues, and music in general, she deserves to have this comparison set aside like muddy tennis shoes on the porch.

I also wanted to avoid insulating myself further into my musical cocoon, and make sure that my love for Tedeschi’s voice and music (like Lois Lane staring at Superman) wasn’t coloring my judgment. So I asked my father-in-law George to come over to check it out. He loves this kind of rootsy music, and he’d never heard of Tedeschi, so he seemed like a good choice for my musical reality check. He made it half way through “The Feeling Music Brings” (a song she wrote with her husband, guitarist Derek Trucks of the Allman Brother’s Band) before he said, “Wow.” That’s one and a half songs. Now he’s buying her entire catalog.

Whether ST’s shouting the blues (“Hampmotized”) or singing softly (Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today”), you’re getting the real deal on this CD and the DVD. And I’ve barely even touched on her guitar playing, which is solid, tasteful and authentic, or her exceptional band (especially William Green’s wailing on the B-3 organ), and that says something about how good this release really is. Oh, and the fact that I can leave any mention of her hit “It Hurt So Bad” until this paragraph should convince you that this CD and DVD are something special. It’s a great song, but not the best on this release; that’s reserved for a stellar reading of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”

I guess what I’m saying here is that, somewhat like on the TV show Heroes, there really are people walking among us on Earth with wondrous superpowers. You may not be able to tell who they are based upon the way they look or talk or dress, but in the case of Susan Tedeschi, each time she opens her mouth and sings she gives away her secret identity. And that’s good for us, because we need more music superheroes like her.

Susan Tedeschi - Live from Austin TX is a great-sounding recording. Considering it was originally a TV show may even make that remarkable in some ways, but by 2003, when this was recorded, television audio was way beyond the tinny sound of a guy playing spoons on Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour. The musicians are wonderful, the room is outstanding, the recording crisp and clean.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound on the DVD is crystal clear and the
mix gives just enough space to the instruments so that you believe they’re in the proper position and you’re right there on stage with them. The mixing and mastering are phenomenal. Plus here’s a shout out to the original TV audio engineer David Hough. Excellent work. When they put “stunning 5.1 surround sound” on the box, New West wasn’t kidding.

There’s really nothing in the world like live music played well on good instruments. When a CD (and/or DVD) is successful in capturing that “nothing,” it’s a real joy to listen to recorded music.

Extra Features
My only complaint about the DVD: New West should consider throwing a few real “extras” onto future releases. Song selection isn’t really an extra feature in my book, and I’m certain the participating artist can supply something interesting. In the case of Tedeschi they could interview her and have her explain how all that guitar playing talent fits under one roof when Derek is home from the road. That’s something I’d like to know.

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