Talk From The Rock Room: July 2023

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Rock Room On the Road: Tedeschi Trucks Band - July 11, 2023 - Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center


The annual Tedeschi Trucks Band summer tour visit to Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center pulled into Canandaigua, NY on the evening of July 11, 2023 with Ziggy Marley and his band in tow for an expansive and affirmative set of genre defying music. Like a family picnic, or reuniting with a dear friend after an extended absence, the mellow crowd and band met in the middle for a shared evening of magic and music making. At 8:30, following an expressive set by Marley and his group, Tedeschi Trucks Band took to the stage to an expected and typically enthusiastic response. 

In front of a packed house on a steamy lakeside evening TTB opened the show with Joe Cocker’s “Woman to Woman,” off his 1972 self-titled LP. A driving swampy funk was initiated by Trucks wiry scrubbed rhythm work and decorated with hearty golden huffs of horns. It didn’t take long for the band to slot into a deep groove while the lead vocals were passed along the vocalist’s like a burning ember. Susan entered the vocal queue last and belted out her verses to the explosive joy of the crowd. 

The band then fell into the summery “Anyhow,” a track off 2016’s “Let Me Get By,” and drifted into a perfect paisley pulse. Susan, armed with her Les Paul took the first big solo of the evening. It wasn’t until the third song, the bluesy waltz of "Do I Look Worried,” that Derek stepped forward for his first solo of the evening. A probing analysis of the song’s shifty changes and a confirmation that the band was ready to play. Ratcheting down the intensity so that the venue doesn’t detonate, the group played with the perfect combination of fire and ice. Raising the crowd into the clouds and floating their sensibilities delicately back to solid lush earth.

The ultra-talented keyboardist Gabe Dixon got his moment in the spotlight with the quivering beat of “Gravity,” which rose from the ground with a flourish. Trucks scribbled in elegant cursive over the top of the chunky arrangement. Midway through the song Davis laid down a spicy piano segment that Trucks entered with a screaming and overdriven exploration of the changes. Trucks peaked with mind numbing scrubs and string bending excitement that took the song over the top. It’s during these unique musical exchanges that you realize you are witness to one of the best players to ever handle a six string. The horn trio joined in on the the movement lending old school “Chicago,” horn section style squawks and blasts to the smoky gumbo. 

Speaking of “Chicago,” the heavy stepping “Learn How to Love,” featured the moaning horn section eliciting the feelings found in the grooves of the first Chicago Transit Authority record. A stellar saxophone solo by Kebbi Williams balanced the tightrope between melodic and atonal before Derek joined in. Derek played a cherry red Gibson 335 hollow body guitar as the crushing rhythm section churned its way to a huge husband and wife guitar duel that ignited the venue. 

Derek, sans slide, skinned the neck of his guitar clean, as he snaked in between and around the poly rhythms disseminated by the drummers. His tone as sharp as a spear point, sliced through the evening humidity looking for the mark. Susan kicked in the door to discover what Derek was up to and lit the fuse to the evenings first eye bulging highlight. 

Both Susan and Derek attentively expressed their relationship through the intimate conversation of their taught strings. Ask and answer, question and response, joke and cojole, the duo revealed the internal workings of their band through their expressive engagement. Their interaction intimate, yet made for the prying eyes of the performing stage.

In breezy contrast to the guitar onslaught that almost brought down the shed, Wet Willie’s, “Keep On Smilin',” gave the crowd a groovy respite from the intensity that was released from the stage. Susan’s vocals were both encouraging and inspired, eliciting a toothy smile. The backing vocals sang in angel choir accompaniment and Derek put the finishing touches on the song with a thorough exploration of the melody. 

The concert then rode the crest of a beautiful wave with an extended vamp on Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How To Be Free,” that was prefaced by a tough trumpet driven improvisation, with Derek moving to side stage to play off of the stringy soloing laid down by Ephraim Owens. The resulting rendition and jamming was a freeform celebratory revival, with every band member contributing in some way. Handclaps, percussion and joyous collaboration was the order of the night and the crowd lost themselves in the music. When vocalist Alecia Chakour and Mark Rivers joined together in a chilling call and response at the end of the song, the crowd gave it all back to them and more. 

Following a well jammed improv prelude, the band slipped dynamically into the chunky “Yes We Will,” from their most recent album. Again Susan and Derek swap asides with the band and rolled through a series of well timed peak before dissolving into a gentle keyboard and Derek driven space. This cinematic drift slowly culminated in the vibrant introduction to a welcome “Midnight in Harlem,” which everyone in the assembled audience recognized and responded to in kind. 

If we had thought that the concert had reached its summit, it surpassed all expectation with a serrated reading of Dr. John’s, “Walk on Gilded Splinters.” Relentless in its shifty expression, the song pounded the dancing crowd into submission. Straddling the fence between Dr. John’s moody original and Humble Pie’s live cover, TTB looked at both paths and then took the road less traveled. 

With no time to recover the concert climbed into the clouds and concluded with, TTB’s soul driven “I Want More,” which moved through impressive bass and drum interludes before blossoming into “Beck’s Bolero,” an emotional and breathless tribute to the recently departed Jeff Beck. The famed “Bolero,” covered the venue in washes of sound, as Derek expressed a number of his own variations on the Beck theme, touching the edges and then drawing an entirely new focus over the existing artwork. An ambitious rendition and a stunning, well-placed conclusion.

Acting as masters of emotion and ceremony, the band returned to the stage with the slow and soothing Susan reading of Bonnie Raitt’s, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. Played as a duo, with keyboardist Gabe Dixon accompanying, the spacious rendition, steeped in silence, was sat out under the cool dusk for a moment of crowd contemplation.  One of the best moments of the performance.

Then, sending everyone off in a proper and proud fashion, Ziggy Marley and his band were invited back to the stage to join in on a Sly and the Family Stone tribute. The double banger of“Sing a Simple Song” segued into “I Want to Take You Higher.” was the perfect combination for group rock, and collaborative music making. The stage quaked with the weight of so much talent and musical expression that the joy could be felt in thick fat waves. Bodies shook and smoke signals drifted from the lawn seats. For a moment there was nothing else in the world, or in your own mind, except the inspiration and love being gifted from the stage to the crowd, and then reciprocated back in kind. The music was so filling, it almost felt if the tented stage would burst into feathers and falling stars.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band is both a flashback, and fast forward as their music not only successfully blurs genres through their creativity, but also pays tribute to their piles of influence through careful recitations of their musical heroes songs. Everything that you hope to find at a concert, Tedeschi Trucks Band offers freely through their egoless performances and shared enthusiasm for song. There is no other touring band the offers such a diversity of players, a wealth of inspiration, and guarantee of specially curated and emotive music. No matter what you look to find in your favorite artist exploits, Tedeschi Trucks Band will touch upon it and share it with honesty and inspiration.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Yusuf / Cat Stevens – King of a Land – “A Peaceful Heart”

Yusuf Islam recently referred to his new album, King of a Land, as a mosaic. The record took a decade to craft after 2014’s Tell Em’ I’m Gone and contains a collection of biographical parts and pieces hailing from his long and storied career. When these various bits are compiled, a narrative arc appears, and in turn reflects the long-held themes of Yusuf’s songwriting. The basic tenants of Cat Stevens and now Yusuf’s compositions have always been the search for and pursuit of peace. After reconciling the rules of his conversion to Islam with his own internal creative drive for music, Yusuf has been able to join both sides of his being into song. 

King of a Land is Yusuf’s sixth album since rejoining the world of popular music in 2006 and his seventeenth career LP. The record is a result of his previous discography, and his current recordings. Yusuf touched upon his past with the 2020 reimagining of his 1971 record Tea for the Tillerman. In hindsight, this look backwards was a necessary step forward on the path to King of a Land

Yusuf's current creativity blends the essence of his religion, his beliefs, and his history, into a melodic expression that also explores the basic elements of humanity. Never didactic and always comforting, Yusuf is sincere in his expressions and his playing. That has always been his way. By placing himself into and looking through the lens of the most innocent time in one’s life, childhood, he can access an unobstructed view of the world. Whether in previous songs from his 1970’s catalog like, “Father and Son,” “Oh, Very Young,” or “If You Want to Sing Out,” Yusuf has always used a child’s eyes to more honestly assess the world around him. Yusuf’s new album illustrates what is possible when the innocent mind of a child is put in charge of the direction of our world. The white sheet of our birth, while slowly scribbled on over time by cultural graffiti can still be cleared. Yusuf’s songs, while they can’t save the world, try to strip away the layers of misunderstanding to reveal simplistic beauty in song. His compositions offer a message and a gentle prompting of how things can work by practicing simple acts like love and peace. 

The 12 songs on the record act as individual vignettes as well as a thematic whole and harken back to the same sort of delicate songwriting analysis found during Yusuf’s earlier Cat Stevens days. King of a Land, begins with a vibrant image of a “Train on the Hill,” the peace train, idling for its journey of discovery. The backing is cinematic, a soaring bird’s eye view of a imaginary landscape. The optimistic harpsichords and vibrant horns take the fragile melody and turn it into a hopeful prelude to the collection. The train elicits the motion and emotions that transport us through the journey of the album. Ranging from lush to sparse, full band to acoustic troubadour, Yusuf, and longtime producer Paul Samwell-Smith build a sonic world from the bottom up using Yusuf’s deft imagery and melodically addictive chord progressions. 

We meet the young boy of the tale via the title track. The song is quintessential Cat Stevens. Every single piece of instrumentation in its proper place. The backing vocals optimistic and hopeful. The boy dreams of a better place for his people, laying on his back in a field. He stares into the deep blue and fixes all his and the world’s problems through faith. 

The album traces growth and chance through the circular riffing and strident guitar work of “Pagan Road.” In contrast to the innocence portrayed in the first songs, this track touches on the realities and temptations of growing up and away. Yusuf’s vocals have a dusty edge illustrating what he has lost on the pagan run. “All Nights, All Day’s,” is an appealing and syncopated melody that straddles the fence line on a country border. The chorus is helplessly addictive and helps to deliver the darker themes of the song. 

Closing side one of the record,"Another Night in the Rain,” is a beautiful multifaceted track with cross referenced melody lines sung and played into a swirling collaborative of keyboards and acoustic guitar twinkling. I am instantly brought back to Cat Steven’s more experimental work on Numbers and Back to Earth. The chorus features lofty Yusuf vocals that sound as they have been preserved like a rose petal between the pages of a book. 

The flip side of the record begins with the breezy finger picking of “Things.” This song and the following “Son of Mary,” recall the heady acoustic days of Mona Bone Jakon. While “Son of Mary” may be too pious for some, that shouldn’t factor into admiring the songs beauty. “Things,” sounds a bit like a lost Wilco song covering Cat Stevens. Which means it’s fantastic! 

Things pick up with the gospel-tinged reach of “Highness” which looks skyward and marches to a heavy beat and bubbling orchestral swells. “The Boy Who Knew How to Climb Walls,” is the moodiest song on the record reminiscent of “Ruins,” a Cat Steven’s song that explored similar themes. The growth of the character undertaken on the record reaches its nexus when the main character in the song finds his friend gone forever. “How Good it Feels,” is intimate, the penultimate song of the collection. Yusuf’s vocals mic’d closely, his breath and nuance perfection. The song’s gentle recitation and reflection becomes an emotional horizon through is emotive orchestral movements. 

The closing song on the record, “Take the World Apart,” was released as a single, and sums up the journey of the record in a succinct message. A buoyant melody played over rhythmic handclaps support a delicious wordless melody line. The directive, do whatever you can to find your peace. Keep looking high and low, and you will find your place, and your heart. 

King of a Land traces a hero’s journey through song, Yusuf’s journey, and our own. Some reviewers have a certain expectation for the record, but are missing the point entirely. This album is the documentation and culmination of Yusuf’s journey. It contains elements from his past, and future, all in collaboration for something uniquely now.