Already Free – Derek Trucks Band
The Honorable Jesse Jarnow
Album Reviews Editor
I know, boss, I know – you warned me to stop sending you these messages in the middle of the night, but I need to tell you something:
There's something going on down in Florida. Big time. And I've got proof.
Already Free, the new release by the Derek Trucks Band just landed here, boss, and let me tell you: there’s some serious hoodoo going on in Jacksonville. Good hoodoo. You see, the Trucks clan finished off their own studio in their backyard amidst the ‘gators and the manatees this past year ("Swamp Raga Studios," I think they’re calling it … now tell me that’s not a hint). And this album was a product of that "plug in the ol’ Gibson and see what happens" vibe — a Bearsville/Criteria/Electric Lady sort of studio magic with a little bit of Big Pink thrown in (the ability to lay your still-smoldering guitar down and pad bare-footed to the kitchen for a refill of your coffee mug or go watch the kids run around the lawn). So you’ve got this wicked cool, laidback, see-where-the-muse-takes-us atmosphere coupled with, well, Derek. We can’t keep calling him "that kid with the thousand-year-old soul" anymore, as he’s pushing 30, I guess … so forget the kid part – but the thousand year-old soul still applies.
Derek's been a mature guitarist for a long time, but he's still evolving, boss. Yeah, it's the same ol' red SG plugged into a Fender Super Reverb most of the time that does the talking … but it knows so many languages, you know? One minute we’re blowing some crazy be-bop and two breaths later the same setup is growling swamp funk — and it works.
And the whole band's the same way, Jesse (this is the part where it begins to get spooky): they're morphing into this being that not only speaks in all these tongues at once — but they possess the power to have it all make sense to us, too. It’s true.
Go on, you try it: throw on the disc and hit, say, track two, "Something To Make You Happy." Off we go, drummer Yonrico Scott and percussionist Count M'Butu pushing the thing with Derek, bassist Todd Smallie and keyboardist Kofi Burbridge chugging along over top. Half a minute in, Mike Mattison begins growling the vocal (and Mr. M can go from Al Green to Joe Cocker like that) while Derek and Kofi lay down some early ’70s wonka-wonka. Oh, yes — we’ve clearly got some soul/funk with some cool hand drumming by the Count accenting things. And at the minute mark, when the subtle "ooh ooh"s start up in the background, we’re just cruising, baby. But then, listen to Derek’s first break at 1:47: those are licks from somewhere atop a mountain in a faraway land, boss — there’s your Swamp Raga, right there. And the key to it all: it makes perfect sense.
And they do it to you left and right: one moment you're gliding through the air on a flying carpet and—POP—suddenly you're sitting in a rib joint with a table full of empties in front of you at 1:00 AM and the blues-soaked raunch has you pinned to your seat and—POP—welcome to the front pew and you're riding on the voices of the choir and maybe your soul will be saved after all and—POP—you're on Neptune, riding a camel. But it's all smooth and seamless… just different musical languages.
Sprinkled in the mix are tracks where Derek's wife Susan Tedeschi and members of her band share in the vibe. (Just imagine it, boss: now that this soul-filled space-travel chamber is sitting in the Tedeschi-Trucks' back yard, what's to hold them back?) Doyle Bramhall II, Derek's guitar-slinging buddy from the Clapton tour, joins in as well, taking the lead vocal on a pair of tunes. Heck, even Kofi's brother (and Allman Brothers' bassist) Oteil gets to take a ride in this thing they've built down in Jacksonville.
Oh, man… imagine it: imagine if this whole world could co-exist like this borderless gumbo that Derek and the gang have cooking. Don't mean to get too deep on you, boss, but when I hear music like this, it gives me hope.
Gotta start somewhere, boss. Might as well be Jacksonville.
Your humble servant,