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Susan Tedeschi makes new disc come alive

Berklee Performance Center, Boston, November 11, 2008

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Susan Tedeschi was back on home turf. She may live in Jacksonville, Fla. with hubby Derek Trucks, but the Massachusetts native returned to fans and family just a few weeks after the release of her strong new disc, "Back to the River." Hopefully, for those attending the show, they made a point of listening to the new disc because if they didn't, they would have been in mighty unfamiliar territory for large chunks of the 100-minute show.

Tedeschi said she mixed up the set every night, and she must have really wanted to play a lot of new material because she played about 8 of the 11 songs. Fortunately, Tedeschi was up to the task in a concert that built as it went along and didn't just rely on her own songs.

The concert had a somewhat similar blues vein for a good chunk of the show �" everything sounded real good, the playing was on target, but there was a little extra oomph missing.

That changed when Tedeschi went from a good reading of the title track of her new disc to an unrecorded song, Love Is Black. She described it as being "very pretty." The song had more of a jazzy feel with most of the players having a chance to push the song along, coming back to the melody.

The result was a show that started hitting the heights with a Beatles song thrown in "just for fun" followed by a strong version of Dylan's Don't Think Twice It's Alright.

The evening continued in high gear from there, closing the regular set with an extra song, Angel From Montgomery, the favorite song of her grandfather who was in the audience.

Tedeschi, who comes off as a younger version of Bonnie Raitt, battled a cold, but that did not seem to hurt her singing. There was a lot of grit and attitude in her voice from the opening There's a Break in the Road, an Allen Toussaint song from the new disc to a closing blues rocker.

No one could accuse Tedeschi of being a stage hog, particularly her backing band. First off, she has an excellent team behind her led time and again by sax player supreme Ron Holloway. The guy can blow. Time and again, he took the songs to another level.

Tedeschi herself proved to be an agile, heartfelt guitarist on her own, but she did not take all the leads either. Fellow guitarist Dave Yoke had numerous chances to shine, and he did not shy away from the spotlight. Add drummer Tyler Greenwell, Ted Pecchio on bass and Matt Slocum on keyboards and organ, and Tedeschi is one fortunate band leader.

Tedeschi has a very fine disc on her hands with "Back to the River." Whether familiar or not with the songs, Tedeschi and her band mates made them come alive.

British soul singer James Hunter, who has been around longer than some of his female counterparts mining roughly the same territory �" Amy Winehouse and Duffy to name a few �" opened with an inviting 50-minute set. Hunter's old enough to be the father of the other British soulsters, and he apparently has learned a few lessons along the way.

Hunter infuses the songs with the right sentiment and readily brings to mind Ben E. King on such songs as She's Got a Way and People Gonna Talk.

Hunter's five-piece band included tenor and baritone sax players. They were good, but could have provided an even punchier sound as they were key in making the music come alive. Hunter himself picked at his guitar here and there, adding the right musical bite. Hunter proved to be a strong opening act.



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