Made Up Mind, the third and finest Southern soul banquet from the Tedeschi Trucks Band, is a recording that should be viewed more for its title than its cover art.
The photo gracing the front of the album depicts a buffalo and a steam locomotive set to collide with each other head on, signaling an unnatural showdown of strength.
Husband and wife Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi are certainly titan forces within the band that bears their names. Tedeschi, 42, is one of today's most learned, natural and emotive blue-eyed soul stylists. At age 34, Trucks is a wildly versed guitarist who was showing off chops on Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane tunes while in his teens before graduating to the royal Southern jam ranks of the Allman Brothers Band.
But as Made Up Mind opens with its jovial title tune, what we hear isn't the conflict of competing powers but rather the unified force of a band that operates like a soul, blues and roots-rock revue.
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A shuffling guitar riff from Trucks (a lick that is likely to kick around in your brain for days after you hear it) shoots out and circulates within the song, triggering a potent and funky rhythm section led by the double drums of J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell. Then Tedeschi enters with a vocal maturity and confidence that places her on the level of Bonnie Raitt. The groove subsequently blows up with blasts of brass and churchy harmonies along with healthy solos on slide guitar from Trucks that mirror Tedeschi's increasingly celebratory singing. It's a party, for sure.
Still, the resulting music avoids the noodling and grandstanding that are standard operating procedure for artists who flirt with jam-band fame, as Tedeschi and Trucks do. Everything this husband-and-wife team explores here, pursuant to the album title, reflects effortless cool.
Tedeschi and Trucks wrote or co-wrote much of the material on Made Up Mind along with schooled collaborators Oliver Wood (of the Wood Brothers), John Leventhal (producer and husband of Rosanne Cash) and Gary Louris (co-chieftain of The Jayhawks). As a result, the musical moods vary, from the lanky Screaming Jay Hawkins-meets-Dusty Springfield blues strut of Do I Look Worried to the multi-layered funk of Whiskey Legs. The revue-style exuberance roaring behind the two leaders then beautifully orchestrates the fun.
Curiously, one of Made Up Mind's craftiest tracks is the album-closing Calling Out to You, which has Tedeschi and Trucks going it alone on a meditative ballad that expertly showcases these unflinchingly confident talents. It's proof positive that two made-up minds are better than one.