unregistered, on january 30, 2009 2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Sound: Over the course of his first five studio albums, Derek Trucks looked increasingly outside his native United States for inspiration. His early sets concentrated on jazz and blues, working loosely in the idioms of fusion, electric blues, and funk alongside the soulful Southern rock of his most obvious influence, the Allman Brothers Band. (That last is no surprise, since the band's drummer, Butch Trucks, is his uncle; Derek's been playing in the group himself since 1999). From 2002's Joyful Noise on through his last studio effort, 2006's Songlines, Trucks dug deeply for seeds worldwide, delving into reggae, qawwali, salsa, and Afrobeat alongside his explorations of American roots music. His latest offering, Already Free, returns home but is no less rich for it, drawing from a dizzying variety of regions and styles and stirring them into a seamless and immensely satisfying whole.
The album opens with a blistering cover of Bob Dylan's Down in the Flood, cast as a gritty, hard-charging blues that sets the scene for an album's worth of barnburners. It's followed by Something to Make You Happy, a tune written by Paul Pena (perhaps best known for writing Steve Miller's hit Jet Airliner). Trucks's cover sears with it's energy, featuring high-octane performances from vocalist Mike Mattison and keyboardist Kofi Burbridge. Things ratchet down a notch in intensity, but not in quality, for the next two tracks: Doyle Bramhall II pays a visit for the leisurely soul number Maybe This Time, and the Robert Randolph-esque gospel serenade Sweet Inspiration adds a curious touch of bongo to the heavy doses of Hammond organ, backing choir, and, of course, slide guitar.
It's back to the firehouse for Don't Miss Me, a stomping, mid-paced Trucks original that sounds like it's been passed down for generations, from Muddy Waters to Buddy Guy to Eric Gales. Topping it all off is Trucks's murderous slide work, which is yet more impressive on the next track, the shuffling boogie Get What You Deserve. Halfway through the album, Trucks is already blowing the doors off of the house of blues, proving himself possibly the best blues guitarist of his era. Much of Already Free's first half has the feel of Kenny Wayne Shepherd's first two albums, particularly as Mattison's voice has a passing resemblance to Corey Sterling, who sang on Shepherd's debut,
Ledbetter Heights. But as top-notch a player as Shepherd was (and is), a significant portion of his work gives the appearance of being simply an excuse to solo, with a two-minute jam thrown in between 12-bar choruses. Trucks melds Shepherd's ferocity with Keb'Mo's knack for songwriting, along with his uncle's band's fullness of sound and complexity of improvisation (among several members, not just the lead instrument). The result is some of the overall highest quality blues rock anyone's been making in decades.
Trucks downshifts again for Our Love, a piano and acoustic guitar-driven ballad which also features contributions from Doyle Bramhall II. A classic Austin-sound number, Our Love would have fit impeccably on a Storyville record or on the lone LP by Bramhall's erstwhile supergroup, Arc Angels, but it's just as much at home here in Trucks's synthesis of all things Americana. Following this is the sanctified soul number Down Don't Bother Me, whose uplifting chorus echoes Joe Cocker's definitive reshaping of Paul McCartney's With a Little Help From My Friends; in an album of standouts, this slow-burning track is one of the absolute best. Trucks channels Otis Redding on Days Is Almost Gone, which, like Redding's gem I've Been Loving You Too Long, starts off a little unsure of itself but gains it's confidence, and then some, with an infusion of heavy gospel towards it's end.
Trucks's wife Susan Tedeschi guests on lead vocals for Back Where I Started, a subdued love song in which Tedeschi balances her range artfully between Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin. As it fades into I Know, it also introduces the only real hint of non-Western playing on the album when Trucks's sarod (an Indian classical instrument similar in sound to a sitar) makes a brief appearance. I Know gets carried back into the heartland soon enough, fleshing out as a fat Stax tribute with prominent horns and wonderful dollops of electric organ. The album closes with the title track, a brief, scratchy number whose lead melody recalls the old spiritual Blood on That Rock. It's a little disorganized, and feels like somewhat of a throwaway number, especially since the production is intentionally more lo-fi than the rest of the album. Perhaps not the best track to name the album after, but after 53 minutes of top-shelf heat, who's to complain? // 10
Lyrics: The album Already Free was recorded in a home studio with the participation of several guests such musicians as Doyle Bramhall II, Oteil Burbridge, Derek Trucks' wife Susan Tedeschi and Warren Haynes. The album opens with the first single Down In The Flood, a Bob Dylan's song cover refined with a beautifully matched sounding of acoustic and electric guitars combining greatly with Mattison's vocals. This cover is not the only one here the others being a more eclectic Something To Make You Happy (Paul Pena's song) and a gospel-blues interpretation of Sweet Inspiration (Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn's composition) but the original material is no worse than that. Doyle Bramhall II performs the leading vocals on Maybe This Time, another great blues number while Don't Miss Me is remarkable for an outstanding guitars sounding. A more rock'n'roll flavor of Get What You Deserve reminds of the band's earlier works whereas Our Love is a contagious blues ballad and the longest track here but by no means boring. The brightest example of Trucks' outstanding guitar playing is one of the album's highlights Days Is Almost Gone perfect in every respect and proving that the real talent gets only polished as time passes. Susan Tedeschi performs the leading vocals on Back Where I Started, a deeply felt love confession to a long-term partner and I Know is another highlight refined with an unforgettable vocal performance from Mattison and Trucks' playing on a rare Indian stringed instrument called sarod. The album closes with the title track, the shortest song sounding rather laconic in it's message as nothing actually needs to be said after such a wonderful collection as this album. // 9
Overall Impression: Six albums in and with a cartload of accolades to his name, Trucks doesn't need to prove that he's one of the most talented guitarists alive, and yet Already Free is about as far from resting on his laurels as he can get. Forget the blues; forget genre, at allTrucks and his crack band are serving up some of the best American music to be had in a fragmented, subgenre-obsessed popular music world. By tapping into the limitless well of America's musical traditions, Trucks has brought forth one of 2009's first true gems and his best effort to date. // 10
UG Team, on february 10, 2009 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: Every so often there's a musical prodigy that comes along, and people sit back and wait to see if innate talent will translate into a lucrative career. For Derek Trucks, who at an early age was sitting in with such artists like Buddy Guy and The Allman Brothers Band, it does seem that the future will be kind. The guitarist has been involved with multiple collaborations over the past decade or so, but his latest CD release comes from his own personal project, the Derek Trucks Band. Already Free, the 6th studio album from the band, is another incredible effort on Trucks part, showing off his amazing ability at the slide more than ever. While the album might feel slightly like watered-down blues in parts, it still is an impressive piece of work.
Within the liner notes of Already Free, Trucks emphasizes that the new record was all about family and friends. Indeed, he was surrounded by musicians with personal ties (including his wife Susan Tedeschi), and the CD was recorded in Trucks' own home studio. The chemistry within the group is undeniable, and top-notch musicians like vocalist Mike Mattison, guitarist/vocalist Doyle Bramhall II, and gritty guitarist/vocalist Tedeschi keep the record steady throughout.
The Derek Trucks Band is at its best when it does allow a more historical blues sound to enter into the picture. Both the first and last songs provide the biggest taste of the Delta Blues, and not coincidently, they're also the best tracks on the album. The Bob Dylan cover "Down in the Flood" delivers not only that earthy quality, but it also integrates a more distorted, rock-oriented vibe in some sections, making it one of the more dynamic tracks. "Already Free" remains true to the Delta sound and easy-going tempo, never attempting to add in unnecessary synth or overproduction. Elsewhere, Tedeschi is easily the most engaging guest vocalist on the album on "Back Where I Started," and her Bonnie Raitt-like delivery makes a big impression.
Trucks is the main attraction without a doubt, and Already Free is jam-packed with some juicy solos - played in traditional lead style and with a slide. The slide is where Trucks truly shines, and songs like "Down Don't Bother Me" and "Day Is Almost Gone" are standouts. The guitarist also performs with a (a stringed instrument often used in Indian music), and although it doesn't necessarily jump out like a sitar, it still adds interesting layers to the mix. // 8
Lyrics: In terms of lyrics, the themes usually stick to what you might hear on a lot of other blues albums. But for people who are fans of that genre (and this reviewer is one of them), that shouldn't be a huge obstacle in listening to the record. A song like "Our Love" provides a nice glimpse of what you'll hear on the rest of the album with lyrics such as, "I know, know what it's like on my own; Things have been wrong but I don't want to be alone; Sometimes time ain't always on our side." These are classic themes, and even though they're not unique, they're quite suitable for Trucks' blend of music. // 8
Overall Impression: It's hard to not be impressed by everything that Trucks has accomplished since the age of 9. You will definitely hear some evidence of his days with The Allman Brothers Band, although Already Free definitely lacks the gritty feel heard on some early Allman songs. Even so, the musicianship is consistent throughout, and if you're someone who is always on the lookout for innovative slide players, Derek Trucks is your man. // 8
jb335, on february 11, 2009 0 of 0 people found this review helpful
Sound: This time around, the Derek Trucks Band seems to get back to a more blues-oriented sound which eschews many (but not all) of the world music touches on Songlines. This return to roots helps make Already Free their strongest album yet.
Predictably, the stand out tracks are the most blues oriented ones--"Down In The Flood," "Get What You Deserve," "Don't Miss Me" and "Already Free." The band meshes best on these tracks, with Truck's guitar being the glue that binds it together. These tracks showcase the remarkable potential and collective chops of the band, and there are enough of these blues-oriented songs to keep the album exciting. However, the band doesn't saturate the album with blues cliches which keeps the material fresh.
Some bands thrive off a rotating cast of musicians (like Australia's The Cat Empire or some of Clapton's albums), but the Derek Trucks Band is not one of these. The songs featuring Doyle Bramhall II (including the somewhat insipid "Maybe this Time") are some of the weaker ones on the disc; but even then are still worth a listen, maybe just not a repeat. Susan Tedeschi, however, makes some more worthwhile contributions, with her voice serving as a great counterpoint to vocalist Mike Mattison's gravely rumble. // 9
Lyrics: There has been some criticism levied at Mike Mattison's lyrics, and these are probably the weakest part of the album. Here is the only time when they fall into blues cliches, such as the line "I've got a toothpick in the soul of my walking shoes." Occasionally, allusions like this work, but this one is destroyed by the ridiculous image of a toothpick stuck in the bottom of a shoe. Additionally, the forced grammatical inaccuracy of the title and chorus of "Days Is Almost Gone" is almost cringe-worthy.
Although the lyrics make many missteps, there are also some real lyrical gems here. Songs like "Already Free" successfully pull of the modern interpretation of classic blues themes, without a single forced grammar mistake. Most of the lyrics on the album are really fairly satisfactory, though not exemplary. Songs like "Already Free" do represent a step in the right direction though. // 8
Overall Impression: As mentioned above, this is (in the reviewer's opinion) the strongest album by the band yet. The main factor in this is the embracing of the blues, something which the band has only toyed with on previous albums. With what they learned about world music on Songlines, the band has crafted a unique approach to the blues that feels unique but not artificial. They occasionally fall into cliches, but even the best bands are prone to this. The standout tracks are simply excellent, the rest vary from good to above average. The band sounds great, and the interplay between Truck's guitar and Mattison's vocals is great. Neither, however hog the spotlight, and the impression is less "Derek Truck's Band" than it is "The Derek Trucks Band" (I.e. a band that just happens to have Derek in it). I would recommend this album as a great primer to the band, or as a must have for any fan. These guys also put on a great live show, with that being a little more blues oriented than their albums (although I did witness a killer eight minute jam on "Greensleeves") // 9