Somehow guitarist Derek Trucks talked his big time record label into releasing a bit of musical lagniappe for his fans. A mere months after his latest studio album hit the stores, the well-received “Already Free” released on the Sony/Victor Records label, he is putting out a companion live CD to go with it. “Already Live EP” consists of nearly 40 minutes of concert audio featuring five songs including a couple from the new album. What is also cool about this CD is that it will be a limited edition run that can only be bought at independent music stores around the country.
Trucks has been on an amazing roll in the last few years, and his talent on guitar is still growing and evolving. He has pulled double duty, leading his own Derek Trucks Band (DTB) as well as performing with the Allman Brothers Band. Add to that a year’s stint in the legendary Eric Clapton’s band a couple of years ago and you find a top-notch musicians who is paying his dues, in a sense, even though he doesn’t have to do so. All of this has led to “Already Free,” his new studio album that focuses on building a collaborative sound with the musicians around him instead of simply showing off his fret board prowess.
I went back and listened to Trucks’ 1998 album “Out Of The Madness” and it sounds dated to me now. The music itself doesn’t sound dated, per se, but Trucks’ playing has evolved immensely since that time. When you listen to his last two albums, “Songlines” and “Already Free,” when you listen to his work with the Allman Brothers Band, his slide work on the Dickey Betts song “Jessica” at the Chicago show in 2008 and his performances during the amazing 15-night Beacon Theater run that just ended comes to mind, or if you get to experience the blues, rock and funk grooves laid down by his own band on this recent tour, you realize how far he has come. “Already Live EP” simply offers more sonic proof.
The project was recorded over two nights last September in Missoula, Montana and Santa Barbara, California. Every cut is a group effort with Yonrico Scott on drums and Todd Smallie on bass rolling out the rhythm bottom. The Mighty Mississippi River floats over top of its river bottom, and the DTB floats over top of its Scott-Smallie rhythm bottom. As for the rest of the band, Count M’Butu percolates his percussion throughout, Kofi Burbridge adds his melodic keyboards and flute and four out of the five songs features the soulful voice of Mike Mattison.
The EP starts off with a song from “Already Free” called “I Know.” “Down In The Flood” seems to be the song from that album that has been pushed to the front after its release, and rightly so. Yet, my favorite cut, by far, is “I Know,” a sweet Big Maybelle song reworked in a positive and rocking style. In his recent interview with Gritz Magazine, Mattison said of the number, “That’s a beautiful song. …..It is deceptive. It seems like it is very simple, but there is a lot going on in it. Those lyrics really speak to me, too. A very universal message.” For the last two minutes and forty seconds of the song, of course, we find Trucks taking advantage of the groove his band has built as he solos it on out with power and passion.
The next cut is a blues barn burner, “Get What You Deserve,” which is also found on the new album “Already Free.” Once again, with Mattison leading the way on vocals, the band keeps it upbeat and rocking. The next cut keeps the groove firmly in the blues vein with the mid-tempo “I Done Got Over,” a song recorded by Muddy Waters and others. Burbridge steps up with some barrelhouse piano that Big Joe Duskin would have been proud of. Next is a rolling workout from the “Songlines” album called “I’ll Find My Way.” Once again, another uptempo song that keeps the positive groove moving along.
The EP ends with a concert favorite, a 17-minute version of “My Favorite Things.” This is where Trucks gets to pay homage to the jazz greats who preceded him in the musical timeline, specifically John Coltrane who’s version of the tune made history. It starts out with M’Butu’s percussion setting the mood, and then an open jazz groove sets the stage for the improvisation to come. The melody is brilliant and unmistakable. Trucks shows why he is unselfish with his music, allowing his band to expand on the theme. Burbridge does double duty with solos on keyboard and flute, and then Trucks does his thing, including throwing out some nasty free jazz guttural utterances from deep within his electric guitar that puts the stank on it.
The history of the song “My Favorite Things” is fascinating. It was written for the Broadway show “Sound Of Music” by Richard Rogers, who wrote the music, and Oscar Hammerstein II, who wrote the words. After achieving success on Broadway, Julie Andrews made the song even more famous in the movie version of the play. Then, the legendary Coltrane took this Rogers melody and created one of the most beloved instrumental jazz pieces of all time. There was a wonderful biography on PBS a while back about Rogers and in footage filmed before he died he told the interviewer that new music didn’t come to him in a flash of brilliance, but that he had to sit down at the piano and work at creating his new sounds. Once created after hours spent at Rogers’ piano a half a century ago, the trail of this melody eventually leads to one of the best rock musicians in the world making it his own with an electric guitar.