Susan Tedeschi
at Castle Clinton, Battery Park, Manhattan, NY
(8 July 1999)

The Village Voice urged readers to "skip Wynonna at the Roxbury" and head instead to the July 8 edition of the 1999 Thursday night summer concert series at Castle Clinton to see up-and-coming blueswoman Susan Tedeschi instead. The Voice promised we would not be disappointed; indeed, we were not.

The standing-room-only crowd at Castle Clinton, conduit for immigrants to the United States prior to the opening of Ellis Island, heard a relatively new voice on the blues scene. Tedeschi, brought to the attention of a number of radio programmers at the 1998 AAA/Gavin Summit in Boulder, is not yet a household name. Please note that "yet" is the operative word in that sentence.

"I like her already," commented a female friend who had not seen Tedeschi previously. "She's wearing a strapless dress and playing electric guitar!" Indeed, Tedeschi is gutsy. Fronting her accompanying band, Double Trouble, she launched into a cover of "Rock Me Right," which allowed her to show off that electric guitar and its riffs, strapless dress or no.

Tedeschi covered most of her latest release, Just Won't Burn, in her all-too-short 90-minute set. (I had the feeling that she might have played longer had she been on her own accord and not under a fairly strict deadline.) Most of the songs she performed were covers, but she did play two of her own composition, including the radio-friendly, easy-going "You Need to Be With Me." Its almost-reggae beat blended with its blues sound and let her relax with an audience that was already well into her groove.

Just as the audience felt at home with Tedeschi, she was relaxed with them. She didn't talk much; there weren't many lengthy introductions, except for one notable one about losing at love, but she knew how to handle her crowd -- even the young man towards the front crying out his love for her. The Boston native discussed New York's recent heatwave with the crowd and commented on how it had been even hotter during recent gigs in the Midwest. And she was always ready to credit Double Trouble, for their numerous contributions to her sound.

Indeed, Double Trouble did help showcase Tedeschi's voice. While her guitar playing is sublime, it is her singing that truly grabs you. Various media outlets have compared Tedeschi to Bonnie Raitt. On one level, the comparison is valid. They both play the blues, and they both have voices that can either slide gently into your soul or hit you with a handful of gravel. However, when Tedeschi played John Prine's "Angel from Montgomery," a song also covered by Raitt, I realized that Tedeschi's voice is huskier than Raitt's -- not better nor worse, but definitely possessing more of a rocky tone. That quality comes across particularly well in a live setting. Tedeschi's voice seems more subdued on CD when compared to her live energy.

If I didn't look towards the skyscrapers just north of Battery Park and instead looked in another direction -- to the old fort's walls and the trees just outside of it, I could imagine that I was somewhere in the American South listening to an older woman, bred and born there and shouting out the blues, rather than dancing at the southern tip of Manhattan and watching a relatively young Boston native enjoying herself as she rocked the night away. Tedeschi definitely paid tribute to her inspirations in the traditional blues scene that night at Castle Clinton. And yes, in case anyone's wondering, I am very glad that I followed the Voice's advice to skip Wynonna at the Roxbury.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]