The Derek Trucks Band – Already Free (2009)

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Photobucketby S. Victor Aaron

If there was a guitarist who grew up learning guitar at the knee of Son House while listening to Sun Ra records, toured with Jimi Hendrix, became a star in his own right in the early seventies and is now putting the finishing touches to a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame career, that guy would probably sound a lot like Derek Trucks. Only thing is, Derek Trucks is still six months shy of 30 and seems to just be getting started.

That’s not to say he hadn’t done a lot already in his 29 years. He’s sat in and toured with his Uncle Butch’s band—The Allman Brothers Band—since he was around ten, became a full-fledged member at twenty, and has played with such luminaries as Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Joe Walsh and Stephen Stills. Some of those guys he performed with while still in his teens. Listening to his distinctive guitar style, it’s not hard to figure out why so many of rock’s biggest names want to have him around. The owner of a wicked slide approach that’s surpassed only by perhaps only Ry Cooder, Trucks makes his axe sing with all the soul and urgency of Aretha Franklin.

Trucks’ insatiable hunger for making music leads him to several notable sideman projects every year; just last year this space has covered some great new albums he contributed to by Scrapomatic, McCoy Tyner, and Trucks’ wife, Susan Tedeschi. But Trucks main creative outlet has always been his own outfit, The Derek Trucks Band, and has been for the last fifteen years…fully half of his life.

The Derek Trucks Band has been a pretty stable group; Todd Smallie (bass) and Yonrico Scott (drums) have been around since near the beginning, while keyboardist/flautist Kofi Burbridge has played with the band for ten years, now. A few years after that, percussionist Count M’Butu joined, and the current lineup got rounded out by Scrapomatic vocalist Mike Mattison in 2002.

Together, this talented bunch executes Trucks’ vast musical vision, which incorporates blues, blues-rock, folk, jazz, soul and East Indian, all while showing a lot of reverence to the most influential practitioners of those musical forms. As Trucks himself summed it up, “musically, it’s always been wide open in this band.”

Today comes the sixth studio release by this anything-goes band, Already Free. The main impetus for recording this one is a straightforward one: Trucks recently completed building his own home studio with his own hands and the help of some friends, and quickly afterwards began noodling around in it. From that Jacksonville, Florida incubator came forth plenty of new material for a new album, as well as ideas for some well-chosen covers.

Of the covers, “Sweet Inspiration” works the best. I haven’t heard this old Spooner Oldham/Dan Penn composition since Rita Coolidge tackled it in the mid-seventies, but the DTB gives this forty-year old tune new life by taking it to church, where it belongs, and adds a funky undercurrent. Still, Trucks can’t take full credit for resurrecting this forgotten song by The Sweet Inspirations; it was Santana who pitched it to him.

Another borrowed tune is Bob Dylan/The Band’s “Down In The Flood,” already spun off as a single (see video below). It’s a simple, country blues melody that Mattison sings with Delta authority, and Trucks unloads a powerful slide solo, making this rendition a potent blues rocker that doesn’t forget for a single second the traditional blues part of that equation.

Big Maybelle’s “I Know” recreates that trademark Allman Brothers shuffle replete with Burbridges’ Hammond B-3 Gregg Allman evocations and marries it to a joyful, gospel melody that Mattison sings over with relaxed conviction. The song drives to it’s finish by Trucks’ slide work that fades into a distant sound of a sitar, a gentle reminder that this group may share a lot of territory with its leader “other” band, but maintains it’s own identity.

Trucks’ own songs (or co-writes) reveal yet another strength of his; he gave these songs hooks but never made them too sleek and instilled in them enough depth to give them lasting appeal. Just listen to the driving funk of “Something To Make You Happy,” or the anthemic bluesy old-school soul of “Down Don’t Bother Me” for some solid evidence.

Mattison’s gruff, deeply soulful pipes is a fine fit for the band’s gritty personality, but Trucks nonetheless brought in Doyle Bramhall II to take lead vocals on a couple of originals. Bramhall is very much a kindred spirit of Trucks, both having played guitar together behind Clapton and are into much the same kind of roots-based American music forms. Bramhall, though, can also sing, and his vocal abilities prove to work rather well with the funky, mid-tempo rocker “Maybe This Time” and the breezy folk of “Our Love.”

And if there’s going to be some guest vocals, then it might as well include Trucks’ talented spouse Susan Tedeschi. She gives a committed performance on the acoustic-based number “Back Where I Started.” Susan also contributes backing vocals on several other tracks, and I don’t have to read any credits to know that; her presence is hard to miss.

The brief album closer, “Already Free” is an appropriate laid back wind down tune with Trucks dubbing together and acoustic slide with a couple of electric ones.

Followers of The Derek Trucks Band will want to know how Already Free stacks up to 2006’s Songlines, which I felt is where the band really hit its stride. Songlines remains the fullest expression of the Derek Trucks Band’s breathtaking range and abilities. On the other hand, this new one is more tightly focused, yet relaxed.

You could say it’s more “down home.” Literally.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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