Sunday, January 25, 2009

Already Free by The Derek Trucks Band

The first time I ever heard The Derek Trucks Band was a few summers ago when I saw them open for the Allman Brothers Band at the Plain Dealer Pavillion in Cleveland, Ohio. They were already onstage when we arrived at the venue and I just remember being enveloped by the sound of this singing slide guitar. At first it sounded like the ghost of Duane Allman risen from the dead but as I found my seat and settled in to the music, it started to feel like a completely different thing. The band had elements of blues, jazz, world music, jam band music and pretty much any other style you can think of. At one point, they played a version of the John Coltrane arrangement of "My Favorite Things" that changed the way I looked at that song. The next time I listened to Coltrane play it, I found myself thinking about that live rendition, with Derek Trucks' slide guitar taking role of Coltrane's saxophone.

The next day I bought "Songlines," which was their current album at the time, and was pretty much astounded by it. I had heard Trucks play with the Allman Brothers many years before - I think he was still a teenager - and he sounded good but his playing was a little immature. Young musicians, especially those roaming into blues and jazz territory, often sound like they need to live a little bit to flesh out the blood and guts in their playing. By the time "Songlines" came out, which was 2006, Trucks had been on the road as a member of the Allman Brothers for ten years or so, first sharing guitar duties with Dickey Betts and later with Warren Haynes. His playing had not only matured, it had moved far beyond his early musings as a near perfect imitator of Duane Allman into a full throated, distinct voice to be reckoned with.

Two years later, we have "Already Free," which takes the passionate, unique jazz and blues of "Songlines" many steps further and sees the band developing into a force to be reckoned with. The album was recorded in Trucks' home studio, with the whole band playing together in one room. From the opening cover of Bob Dylan's "Down In The Flood" through the deep south gospel groove of "Sweet Inspiration" and the introspective, funk/blues of "Get What You Deserve" this album positively crackles with electricity. The record is a bit of a mixed bag of blues, jazz, gospel, alt country etc., but the distinct personality of the band and that slide guitar somehow hold it together as a cohesive listening experience that works best when taken as a whole, as opposed to playing just a song or two.

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