"I think it's a pivotal record for me - I like this one a lot,” Susan Tedeschi says of her new Verve Forecast release Back to the River. “I think it's really emotional, but it's not really a blues record. The blues is still in there, but there's a lot of other stuff too. I definitely put a lot into this one and worked really hard to put a lot of ideas across."
Indeed, Back to the River—produced by George Drakoulias, whose resume includes work with the Black Crowes, the Jayhawks and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers—is a mature, soulful work that demonstrates how much singer/guitarist/songwriter Tedeschi has grown in the decade since she burst onto the scene.
Back to the River's 11 songs encompass a broad musical and emotional palette, and showcase Tedeschi’s multiple talents as a deeply expressive singer, a soulful and melodic guitarist and a distinctive, evolving songwriter. The album is partially the product of Tedeschi's work with a stellar assortment of songwriting collaborators. She journeyed to Nashville to work with legendary swamp-rock godfather Tony Joe White, with whom she co-wrote the album's raucous title track (whose homesick lyrics refer to her home on the St John's River in her adopted hometown of Jacksonville, Florida). She went to Minneapolis to write “Learning the Hard Way" with the insightful Jayhawks leader Gary Louris.
The album's assertive opening track "Talking About" was written by Tedeschi and stellar guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, who also plays guitar (and sings) on that song and plays guitar on two more Back to the River tracks. She composed the rousing, socially conscious "People" with acclaimed young singer/songwriter Sonya Kitchell, and wrote the anthem "Revolutionize Your Soul" with noted musician/producer John Leventhal (of Rosanne Cash/Shawn Colvin fame). They also collaborated on “700 Houses," written as a reminder of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina with relevance to all natural disasters. "True” conveys a significant message of universal truths and how each person's actions have an effect on the harmony of the world. The chord and guitar parts on that song mix a Carlos Santana feel with a Stevie Ray Vaughan rhythmic approach. Another highlight of Back to the River is Tedeschi's fiery take on the Allen Toussaint-penned New Orleans soul classic "There’s a Break in the Road," originally recorded in 1969 by Betty Harris.
Tedeschi co-wrote the exotic funk workout “Butterfly" with husband and fellow guitar-slinger Derek Trucks, (of The Allman Brothers Band and his own Derek Trucks Band). Derek—who plays slide guitar on four Back to the River tracks and co-leads the part-time combo Soul Stew Revival with Susan—produced "Butterfly" in the couple's home studio prior to the commencement of the album's main recording sessions at L.A. Sunset Sound studios. Trucks also co-wrote the infectious "Love Will" with Tedeschi and renowned lyricist/bassist Tommy Sims (who co-wrote Eric Clapton’s “Change the World,” winner of 1997’s Grammy® for Song of the Year).
Tedeschi and Trucks are also the parents of a young son and daughter. Becoming a mother, Susan says, was an influence upon some of Back to the River's more thoughtful, introspective lyrics, which take a humanistic view of a variety of sociopolitical issues.
"These songs," she says, "are about real life issues that have been on my mind. I don't think it's my job to impose my opinion on people, but I do feel it's my responsibility to write songs that reflect the times and how I feel about them. Becoming a parent makes you start to think on a different scale, and it made me realize that you can write more than love songs. Even if a song can't change the world, you can still capture a little tiny bit of truth and deliver it to people."
Tedeschi's knack for musical truth-telling has been apparent in the years since she first captured the public's musical imagination. Growing up in the Boston suburb of Norwell, Massachusetts, she began singing with local bands at the age of 13, and subsequently pursued her passion for music while studying at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. After establishing herself as one of New England's top-drawing live acts, and making her recording debut with her embryonic 1995 album Better Days, Tedeschi achieved an impressive musical and commercial breakthrough with her 1998 indie release Just Won't Burn. The album became a massive grass-roots success, with a minimum of hype and plenty of old-fashioned word of mouth. Just Won't Burn achieved Gold sales status and won Tedeschi a Grammy® nomination for Best New Artist, alongside such unlikely company as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Macy Gray and Kid Rock. Her next release, 2002's acclaimed, Grammy®-nominated Wait for Me, was produced by legendary studio veteran Tom Dowd. She moved to Verve Forecast for her fourth album Hope and Desire, which marked a substantial departure for the versatile artist, presenting her in the role of interpretive vocalist.
Now, with Back to the River, Susan Tedeschi takes a major musical leap forward. "I worked really hard on this one," she states. "I've enjoyed writing with so many different songwriters and loved working together with musicians to get across my ideas and visions.” "I'm really excited about this record, and I'm anxious to have people hear it," Tedeschi concludes. "People have been waiting for new music from me for awhile, so I look forward to touring, to bring these songs to as many people as I can."