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CD Review -- Derek Trucks

DEREK TRUCKS BAND

Already Free

Sony Music/Victor Records

 Derek Trucks CD art

By Dave Glynn

 

So how do you manage to record a full blown CD when you’re touring in three bands and your wife’s touring in her own band most of the time, too?  You build your own recording studio next to your house – that’s how.  And those few days you’re home, you stay up all night and record.  You hardly ever sleep (and sleep is over-rated anyhow).  Besides the “Sweet Inspiration” keeps driving you forward every second of the day.  And fortunately those wonderful parents of yours, who did a great job of raising you, are willing to help raise your own children.  That’s how it goes for Derek Trucks whose Already Free album is a near masterpiece.

 

Many have seen Derek over his young years playing the part of Duane Allman – and more recently Duane and Dickey Betts with the Allman Brothers.  More of you were introduced to Derek in 2007 when he anchored Eric Clapton’s Chicago Crossroads Festival.  Clapton was especially inspired by Derek who seems possessed by Duane, Johnny Winter, Elmore James and every other Corricedan-bottle, slide player worth a darn. The guitarist and his talented wife Susan Tedeschi also managed to assist Buddy Guy on his Grammy-nominated 2008 CD Skin Deep. And several albums later with the Derek Trucks Band, he’s probably the busiest guitarist in show business.  It’s simply amazing he’s found time to record this remarkable CD with his band

 

An album that will slowly pull you in, Already Free is a deep blues odyssey that’s consistently threaded together by Derek’s slide guitar and scented now and then with his lovely wife’s vocals.  Susan’s voice is a nice contrast to lead singer Mike Mattison’s gruff swamp vocals.  Occasionally Derek is replaced on the troubadour lead vocals by Doyle Bramhall II, co-writer of the lovely “Our Love,” a song that brings the spirit of “Sweet Melissa” by the Allmans  to the album.

 

Why is this album an almost masterpiece?  Because the focus is on songwriting, arrangements, and musicianship and most importantly, it’s made with love. There are multiple textures throughout and everything fits, but not in a contrived way, but in a “Hey, wow, that fit perfectly there, didn’t it?”

 

The CD opens with Bob Dylan’s “Down in the Flood” that moves you along through a Georgia swamp, complete with frogs chirping ala juice harp.  Things get funkadelic on the next number, Paul Pena’s “Something to Make You Happy”.  (Check out the Wiki page on Paul Pena, writer of Steve Miller’s “Jet Airliner” – an amazing story.) Lots of wha wha and chick backups give this a Sly Stone feel, which is a contrast to Derek’s easy slide solos. The next track, “Maybe This Time”, is a romp in the spirit of The Band with Bramhall on vocals. 

 

One of the highlights of the album is DTB’s cover of the R&B standard “Sweet Inspiration”, a well-arranged, catchy song that starts off with some gospel organ and is very uplifting.  “Sweet Inspiration” is where you truly feel the love of the Trucks family coming through with wife Susan and Derek blending together so very well. The slide playing on this song is mighty tasty, too.

 

“Don’t Miss Me”, written by Derek with Mike Mattison, spells out the traveling blues.  Next comes the Robert Johnson inspired “Get What You Deserve,” a good follow up by authors Mattison, Bramhall and Trucks, who come through with a nice bridge that flavors this up.  

 

The DTB slows down quite a bit with the pretty “Our Love” as Bramhall takes the vocals.  Trucks’ slide playing throughout this song is beautiful and fluent, matching Duane Allman’s historic playing on “Melissa”.  This is the stand out song on the album and showcases the songwriting, arranging and performing talent of Derek and Co.  Are you DJ’s listening out there?  Cue this one up and you’ll get some emails and phone calls.

 

Some steady soul comes to us in the next track “Down Don’t Bother Me” with Mattison back on vocals. Rising from humility seems to be a steady theme on this record and is played out on this number as well.  A good follow-up to “Our Love,” this track brings things back to the beginning. 

 

“Days Is Almost Gone” feels like your favorite old sweatshirt and is an extremely catchy R & B song equipped with horns and gospel-like background singers.  “Back Where I Started” is led by Susan Tedeschi in Bonnie Raitt-style and features a more stripped-down arrangement that lends itself to the theme of the song.

 

“I Know” begins with a Middle Eastern feel and floats into the trademark “Whippin’ Post” beat but carries a much  brighter and melodic message.  The CD wraps up with the Mississippi John Hurt inspired “Already Free” complete with scratchy vinyl record ending. 

 

The Derek Trucks Band consists of Derek Trucks on a variety of slide guitars, Mike Mattison on lead vocals (on most tracks), Todd Smallie on bass and vocals, Yonrico Scott on drums and percussion, Kofi Burbridge on Hammond B-3, vocals and other keyboards and Count M’Butu on percussion.  Guests artists on this record consist of Susan Tedeschi and Doyle Bramhall II who produced several tracks on this record. The horn section includes Paul Garrett on trumpet, Mace Hibbard on tenor saxophone, Kevin Hyde on trombone.  Honorable mentions to Eric Krasno on guitar, Ted Pecchio on bass, Tyler Greenwell on drums and Chris Shaw on cinder block and drainage pipe.

 

Final note:  The packaging for this record is very cool – it comes complete with a triptych cardboard sleeve and full booklet.  The cover and booklet includes lots of photos of the band, family and fun.  Also included are the “Seven Creative Virtues”, which like the Ten Commandments, if everyone followed them we’d having nothing but peace, love, beauty and this great music that’s “Already Free”.

 

About the reviewer:  Dave Glynn is the leader of the Empty Can Band found at http://www.emptycanband.com.  You can follow Dave’s tweets on Twitter.com as @guitardone. Dave is also the PR co-chair for the Blues on the Fox Festival in Aurora, IL – set for June 19 & 20th, 2009,  featuring Los Lobos, Back Door Slam and Sugar Blue and more. You can visit the festival site at http://www.bluesonthefoxaurora.com. 

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