Back to the River (Verve Forecast)
Coming off like a drunken Bonnie Raitt-all mournful wailing, whiskey-sodden riffs and prurient urges-Susan Tedeschi's latest album aims for the gut and, even when it swings a bit wide, is likely to rustle more than a few bar stools.
With the Skynyrd-drenched "Talking About" kicking things off, followed by the lighter-in-the-air Katrina elegy "700 Houses," the opening lends an overhanging humidity that becomes as much a part of the recording as Tedeschi's own rough-hewn guitar work. The funk and wah-wah driven "Back to the River" and the Stevie Wonder-on-parade "Butterfly" keep the Southern stew thick, but about the time it almost feels necessary to reach for the mosquito repellent, the songwriting goes a bit slack, with Tedeschi resorting back to the pop impulses that have softened previous efforts.
There's a "be nice" sentiment on "Learning the Hard Way" that actually utilizes the "if you can't find something nice to say" idiom, and a sing-along chorus of "Revolutionize Your Soul" that sounds straight out of a Hyundai commercial.
Luckily, husband and never-the-same guitarist Derek Trucks pops in long enough to keep even the filler rock-able, and before it's too late, "There's a Break in the Road" brings everything back home. Combining the modern crunch of The White Stripes with a backbeat straight off of Bourbon Street, it's a track indicative of Tedeschi at the top of her powers-that vintage vibe infused with a sultry breath all her own.