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Fresh and playful

Susan Tedeschi - Hope and Desire
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Dec. 5, 2005
Susan Tedeschi

Review by John Halverson

Susan Tedeschi said she wanted to make a soul album.
As a huge fan of late 60s soul, I cringe when I hear a Michael McDonald or Michael Bolton go over the top trying to sing some classic we've heard better a thousand times before. But Hope and Desire, Tedeschi's latest CD, proves vintage covers don't have to be stale or overwrought. Sure, Hope and Desire has some of the markings of the originals - - the rousing horns and pounding organ, the buildup, the repeated refrains and, of course, the girl backup singers. Sometimes it sounds like Tedeschi is channeling the Marvelettes and, personally, I think it's great. But Hope and Desire didn't make the worn out choices. Not a "Proud Mary" or "My Girl" in the bunch. "Tired of My Tears," a Ray Charles song, has an engaging driving beat ready made for a Top 40 hit (if only someone over 22 not named Madonna could ever crack it).
There are also lesser known Aretha and Donny Hathaway covers and songs originally done by The Stones, Bob Dylan and the Blind Boys of Alabama - - hardly who you think of when you think of soul. There's even a little neo-roots music feel, ala early Linda Ronstadt or Maria Muldaur and a couple cuts are straight-out blues.
Part of the power of soul is in its simplicity, but that doesn't mean it has to be simplistic. To be sure, Tedeschi's raspy voice, well-respected in the blues community, helps separate this soul album from the blue-eyed tripe of others. Yet "Follow," originally done by the incomparable Richie Havens, is just plain beautiful - -proving Tedeschi's tough girl voice can be ladylike, too.
There are purists who fell in love with Tedeschi back in her "Better Days" days when everything was raw and nervy. They may call this selling out - - especially since the songs are written by others. It's true that some of her earlier stuff had a little more grit, but what's wrong with matching up great songs with great voices, no matter who wrote it? Elvis was powerful without being a composer. So was Sinatra.
Finally, this Tedeschi is having a blast. Like Van Morrison of the late 70s, the music sounds fresh and playful. And drawing from a deep and soulful place.

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