Derek Trucks Band
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2009, Volume 16, #1
Written by John Metzger
Tue January 20, 2009, 06:30 AM CST
Since issuing his bandís self-titled debut in 1997, Derek Trucks has been fortunate enough to work extensively alongside an array of legendary performers from both the rock and blues worlds. Rather than letting his experiences go to his head, as many rising stars might have done, he has taken the lessons learned from his journeys to heart. In the process, he has brought greater discipline and poise to his own output. Picking up where his 2006 effort Songlines ended, Trucks continues to chart his growth on his latest set Already Free, though, once again, the gains he has made havenít come without a price.
From an early age, Trucks possessed skills as a guitarist that far outstripped his abilities as a songwriter and bandleader. This is to be expected, of course, but what is particularly striking about his development is how he has resisted the urge simply to lean upon his extraordinary talent and allow it ó and it alone ó to sustain his career. Trucks repeatedly has looked elsewhere for inspiration, assistance, and guidance, and in a sense, he has set aside his ego enough to parlay his stints with the Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh, and Eric Clapton into apprenticeships.
In truth, there is a little about the style and substance of Already Free that Trucks hasnít tried on his previous efforts. It is, then, an album that was born of a need to refine his ideas rather than broaden them. On Something to Make You Happy and Maybe this Time, he taps into the soulful essence of Santanaís and Claptonís canons, respectively. Elsewhere, he applies a hard-driving, southern-rock groove to Donít Miss Me, dabbles in country-soul on Sweet Inspiration, and shades his Led Zeppelin-imbued impulses with Beatle-esque textures on a cover of Bob Dylanís Down in the Flood. There are hints of his jazz and world music influences tucked into the fray, too, though this time, they are rendered more subtly.
No cipher is necessary for decoding Trucksí thought process as he crafted Already Free. Shortly after issuing Songlines, he began spending a lot of time touring and recording with Clapton, and the influence of Trucksí most recent mentor weighs heavily on the set. Meanwhile, Trucksí fondness for old-school R&B, which not only had bubbled to the surface of Songlines but also has become fodder for his forays on the road with Susan Tedeschi, serves as the endeavorís underlying template. The result is that Already Free is positioned to be the heir apparent to Claptonís work during the mid-1970s, albeit with a few of its own unique twists.
The problems, however, are twofold. First and foremost, Trucksí stylistic approach to Already Free requires a vocalist who can fill the material with an emotional edge, without becoming overbearing. Unfortunately, Mike Mattison ó and, to a lesser extent, Doyle Bramhall II and Susan Tedeschi, both of whom make appearances on several of the albumís tracks ó fails to carry the load. Likewise, although Trucks wisely steers clear of the contemporary sparkle and polish that have undercut some of Claptonís recent pop-oriented forays, he also canít quite muster the willpower to urge his band to allow the grooves to unfold organically.
Regardless of its flaws, Already Free does have its moments of success, and when its songs misfire, they are just slightly off their marks. In particular, whenever Trucks plays guitar, his material springs to life, and one can hear the possibilities that these tracks hold for further elaboration in a concert setting. While Trucksí Slowhand-style ambitions never quite come to fruition, itís immediately clear that with Already Free, he at least has ventured onto the right track. In fact, after he gets another album or two under his belt, Trucks just might begin to create the kinds of endeavors that can rival those made by his teachers when they were in their prime. Ĺ
52nd Annual Grammy Award Winner:
Best Contemporary Blues Album
Of Further Interest...
Already Free is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box