The Derek Trucks Band, “Already Free”

[Victor Records]

March 2009



Attention all Rockers and Blues Lovers: grab a Burnt Brisket Ends Sandwich from your favorite barbeque joint, (along with a cold Root Beer), and hunker down with this newest gem from the rollicking Boys in the Derek Trucks Band. Last summer, I reported from the Montreal Jazz Festival on the outstanding live performance from vocalist Mike Mattison and his band, Scrapomatic, as they belted out soulful urban and swamp Blues to the delight of the dancing, capacity crowd. Here, Mattison re-joins his comrades in the Derek Trucks Band in one of this year’s best rockers. Already Free is an eclectic stew of Blues, R & B and feeling good Roll and Tumble, recorded in a crackling alive recording space.

The journey begins with a pulsating version of Dylan’s “Down In The Flood,” propelled by a pole driving rhythm. Trucks moves in with sinuous gestures on his sweet and piercing electric slide guitar as Mattison belts out Dylan’s lyrics with appropriate sarcasm and fire. Mattison’s husky, sand papered vocals are captured in resonant fashion alongside the rest of the band’s combustible and electric feel. The vivacious energy of the Derek Trucks Band on this recording is further heightened by the addition of guest guitarist, Doyle Bramhall II, who adds his signature funky punctuations of Southern Soul wherever he turns up. For example, “Something To Make You Happy” drips heavily in Bramhall’s guitar Funk, a perfect foil for Trucks’ lighter touch, Kofi Burbridge’s Hammond B-3, and Mattison’s down and dirty vocals. Watch out for this same lethal combination on the gem, “Get What You Deserve,” where everyone launches into a fast, killer Blues tune that brings down the house. Here, we’ve got a combustible combination of Trucks riding high and fast on his electric slide, Bramhall slinking right beside him on heavy rhythm guitar and Mattison belting forth his vocals with glee. This blistering tune ends with a crash of cymbals from Yonrico Scott’s kit that decays at length into the heat of the surrounding air.

The creative journey continues with a number of tunes that contain rollicking Gospel, Swamp Blues and Swing influences. “Sweet Inspiration” starts off with a Hammond B-3 crescendo over a smattering of handclaps that flows into a swinging, Gospel infused melody. Trucks enters with his fluid electric slide solo that reaches higher and higher through lots of harmonic twists, string bends and turns. Mattison, along with Trucks’ talented guitarist and singer-songwriter spouse, Susan Tedeschi, combine for some thirst quenching vocals which flow over Count M’Butu’s pulsating conga rhythms and the sparkle of tambourine and handclapping underneath. Trucks blazes away on the opening of another beauty, “Down Don’t Bother Me,” a slow brewing Blues/Gospel nugget. Here, Mattison navigates around Truck’s swirling and serpentine slide guitar, belting out powerful, deep vocals that would make any roof shudder and shake. Trucks has a beautiful way with insinuating his slide guitar into the melody of “Down,” carving out his own territory and building to a fiery crescendo that will knock your socks right off.

Just as you may be recovering, the band launches into the beautiful ballad, “Days Is Almost Gone.” Mattison now turns all gentle and soft and Trucks smooth and creamy on his slide. Behind them sings a soft Hammond B-3, a soulful vocal chorus and a brass section adding warmth and shining colors. Trucks again takes up the spirited melody on his slide solo, fashioning it into a fluid, uplifting journey. Next, we get a real treat: Susan Tedeschi enters to take center stage and sings lead vocal on the Tour de Force acoustic number, “Back Where I Started.” This piece moves us from the Mississippi Delta to the River Ganges, as a distinctive Indian/Asian flavor takes hold with Trucks utilizing both an acoustic guitar as well as the resonant, ancient string sound of a Sarod. Tedeschi delivers her gorgeous lilting vocals, flowing in and out of these guitar textures silhouetted against simple brushed cymbals and bass. At its conclusion, a long-held Sarod note leads creatively into the Roll and Tumble of the next number, “I Know.” This is a distinctly Southern Blues rocker reminiscent of a great Allman Brothers tune. Mattison leans into his deep vocals in “I Know,” digging low and expressively high to push the ebb and flow of this number inevitably forward, propelled as well by Trucks’ free wheeling slide and accents from the brass section. Finally, we end with “Already Free,” a dark and dusky number with Truck’s warm acoustic slide and Mattison’s vocals putting a beautiful glow on the sunset of this brilliant recording. My advice: when “Already Free” ends, just turn it back around and start the journey again, with another Burnt Brisket Sandwich and cool one in hand.

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