By Chris Cooper
The Derek Trucks Band: Already Free
It’s tough to find something new and profound to say about the playing of Derek Trucks. Words like “prodigy” and “virtuoso” are just too easy to grab. That he has taken the style and work of Duane Allman and sprinted with it really isn’t enough- in many ways he’s moved beyond that particular icon’s influence, speaking strictly in the realm of guitar. To see Trucks in the live format, in the moment, is almost always a transformative experience. With each performance, whether with his band, the Allman Brothers, or any other configuration is to see someone channeling something much bigger and more powerful than merely the person playing the notes. Trucks taps into something beyond words, and transcends the mere act of “guitar playing” into something- forgive me- almost holy.
In the 90’s there was an explosion of talented young blues artists- Johnny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and, of course, Derek Trucks. It’s not that the stars of the aforementioned musicians have faded, but the reality is that Trucks is the pick of the litter, if you will. Not to dismiss the talents of Lang and Shepherd, but at the ripe old age of 10, Trucks was on to something most musicians never find- the essence of music itself; pure expression with a hunk of mahogany, some nickel plated steel and a piece of glass. The last name should help figure out the family tree at this point, if you’re not already hip to the story. The names “Trucks” and “Allman Brothers” are pretty much forever linked. And the recent Rolling Stone story about the new breed of guitar hero included Trucks, along with John Mayer and John Frusciante. Don’t get me wrong, but Trucks was the real hero amidst that particular group- true to his vision and relentless in his pursuit of “real music.”
With Already Free, the Derek Trucks Band (DTB) pools all the elements that make them a wonderful and mercurial thing into something truly real. The playing is there- these guys are wonderfully talented musicians- but so are the songs. “Songs...” that can be a weird thing to discuss in the realm of virtuosic playing. There’s “musician’s music,” the stuff that only people that play an instrument can appreciate. Then there’s actual music, the kind that anyone; the fellow at the gas station, the girl that bags your groceries, the guy at the bank, can find something to relate to. Without a doubt, the DTB has found that “golden mean,” to quote the liner notes. With players like Doyle Bramhall II ( if you don’t remember the Arcangels, shame on you,) Oteil Burbridge and Trucks’ wife, Susan Tedeschi contributing to these tracks, the results almost have no choice but to be spectacular. And spectacular they are, from the opening track- Dylan’s “Down In The Flood” to the orginal, and closer, Trucks and vocalist Mike Mattison’s “Already Free.”
Gospel, soul, blues, electric rock, all of it finds the perfect puzzle piece that fits on Already Free. There’s a Bonnie Raitt reference waiting to be made here, that of someone that took their deep blues influence and made it palatable to an infinitely wider audience. But without reaching so far into “pop” as the inimitable Raitt, Trucks and company have produced an album that doesn’t ride entirely on musicianship alone; again, it’s the quality of the songs that carry the weight. “Days Is Almost Gone” deals with the realization that we have a painfully limited amount of time to get the things done that we need done, Bramhall’s “Maybe This Time” the necessity of perseverance in love. This is not “world weary” music, it’s the music of songwriters and musicians that value the limited days we have available on this planet, and that want the most out of them. Tedeschi’s vocal on “Back Where I Started,” co-penned by fellow Allman Brother Warren Haynes, is a fitting ode to love found and the effort to move beyond the past, and considering her relationship to Trucks, it’s almost the perfect love song.
To say that Already Free is an excellent new “blues” release just doesn’t ring as true as it should. Trucks and his band, vocalist Mike Mattison, bassist Todd Smallie, drummer Yonrico Scott, percussionist Count M’Butu and multi-instrumentalist Kofi Burbridge (along with a slew of guests) have released an album of almost limitless merit, and better, limitless spirit. Spin it and you’re sure to find much of what’s been missing from the airwaves lately. See them live- and hold on to your seat. It’ll be quite a ride.