There is something hearty and satisfying about Susan Tedeschi’s fifth studio album. It proceeds briskly and unflaggingly for 44 minutes through versions of blues, gospel, soul, rock and funk songs.
Apart from a horn-led, funky cover of Allan Toussaint’s There’s a Break in the Road, all the songs are originals. Many were in fact co-written with near-legendary folk, such as the swamp-rock pioneer Tony Joe White, who worked on the title song, Back to the River. In the finest blues tradition, many of these songs sound immediately familiar and, perhaps more importantly, as if they have existed for years.
This album may be new, but it could have been released at any point over the past 40 years. The record’s production, which limits its palette to judiciously employed wah-wah, remolo and overdrive, helps maintain this illusion.
But the biggest factor has to be Tedeschi’s rich, raspy voice and gutsy delivery. She has been compared to Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt, but she puts in mind Rod Stewart, as both singers have an evocative huskiness, a “jagged grain”, to misappropriate Ralph Ellison’s famous phrase about the blues, which stamps any song with authority and individuality.
Whether it be the catchy pop of People, the sentimental balladry of 700 Houses or the hard-edged funk of Butterfly, the album traverses the gamut of so-called roots music and Tedeschi’s voice carries it through.