The exercise of compare-and-contrast can be put to good use with regard to Tedeschi Trucks Band’s latest, Let Me Get By, and its previous studio set, 2013’s Made Up Mind. The latter was the final album for major-label Sony, and contained a notable amount of ‘outside’ help, including both guest songwriters and bassists. Recent interviews with the band, as well as personnel changes in the interim time between records, suggest (in hindsight, of course) that the cover art of Made Up Mind – a charging buffalo headfirst into an oncoming steam locomotive- was possibly more than a coincidental metaphor. Tellingly, a bird in the sovereignty of flight graces Let Me Get By.
Settled and expanded from an 11-piece ensemble to an even dozen, Tedeschi Trucks Band has come through the changes with a record of maturity, equanimity, and style. The components that make the unit such an explosive live force are all here, but are showcased less on an outright platform and more from a complementary role. Derek Trucks, a modern master of guitar, still wields his slide like a sword, cutting and slicing in and out of the dignified dusk of vocal phrases from spouse Susan Tedeschi. The three-piece horns still burst in harmonious support. The dual drummers still drive the point home. But, there is experience and wisdom and choices that have been made within each of the ten cuts that culminate in a truly collective way.
Recorded in the guitarist’s Swamp Raga home studio, Trucks produced the session, and shows how far he’s come from an initial apprenticeship of sorts under Jim Scott, the producer of the group’s initial outings. “Anyhow” opens with muted backroad wails from Tedeschi, turning on a dime into an assured, contemporary single, shining with pockets of horns and a wall of background vocals. The odd-meter of “Laugh About It” trails a repeating figure from Trucks, as Tedeschi urges those hurting to rise up, then into the honk & funk of “Don’t Know What It Means.”
Sounding like something Tom Waits might write at 3 a.m. on Bourbon Street, “Right on Time” is maybe the most ambitious and broadminded track not only on this, but any of the band’s catalog. With a chorus that begs for a swaying singalong, its staggering horns and Django-like guitar break are just two of the charms within this surprise. The titular “Let Me Get By” rumbles on a Kofi Burbridge keyboard riff, stoked by the pulsing bass of now-permanent Tim LeFebvre, into a slightly lo-fi and percussive “Just As Strange” that evokes pictures of open and endless southern landscape.
Sequined with ‘70s strings, “Crying Over You” has singer Mike Mattison taking the lead for a soul shakedown, then empties into a “Swamp Raga” that bridges across to the subdued “Hear Me,” vaguely reminiscent of the band’s neo classic “Midnight in Harlem” from its Grammy-winning debut. It’s a moment of pause before “I Want More” pulls the body up for a mover right out of Motown, only to fill its outgoing minutes with swirling smoke-rings of notes from Trucks’ guitar and Burbridge’s flute. A slow and touching “In Every Heart” serves as a soothing finale.
Let Me Get By is a statement of solidarity for Tedeschi Trucks Band. It is an album that internally unifies both the intention and spirit of the band, while still being outwardly bold and imaginative. This is a group stepping forward together, embracing and even attacking the freedom and opportunity of an un-walked path.