It must be strangely comforting to know that there’s not much left to prove. Cover of Rolling Stone? Check.
Touring with both your own great band and one of the greatest rock bands of all time? Check.
And, if you buy into 1960s British graffiti…been a member of God’s band? Yep, check that off the list too.
With Already Free, the follow-up to Songlines (Honest Tune’s 2006 album of the year), once again the Derek Trucks Band has proven that there’s always new ground to break.
Already Free kicks off with a couple of great cover songs, a blistering take on Bob Dylan’s "Down In The Flood" that opens the disc with a bang (and even has Derek playing bass) and a funked up version of Paul Pena’s "Something to Make You Happy" that would certainly fit into any Soul Stew setlist.
Derek diverges from formula on the first original on the disc, "Maybe This Time." Rather than record with his road band, he’s got a few different yet familiar faces on the bill – Clapton bandmate Doyle Bramhall II handles vocal duties (and writing credits), Eric Krasno (Soulive, Lettuce) sits in on guitar, and the song is powered by a rhythm section featuring Ted Pecchio (bass) and Tyler Greenwell (drums), from Scrapomatic and wife Susan Tedeschi’s band. The song has the feel of a Clapton tune, circa late 70s, and really works.
Greenwell and Pecchio make another appearance on "Don’t Miss Me," a swampy, dirty tune that really puts Mike Mattison’s vocals on display. Yet again, as on Songlines, Mattison really excels on the disc. Seriously, folks, there aren’t many singers out there with his vocal range and ability.
"Our Love" is bit of a strange departure – it’s borderline pop. With Bramhall II on vocals singing lyrics "I won’t let our world slip away / You can be strong for the day / We both know, I’ve been guilty before," a catchy chorus, and great musicianship, this is a song that would have found its way to Top 40 radio decades ago, and probably would today if Top 40 radio hadn’t turned to crap. Trucks’ Allman Brothers bandmate Oteil Burbridge sits in on bass for this track, which also features the guitarist’s usual New Year’s Eve horn section of Paul Garrett (trumpet,) Mace Hibbard (saxophone,) and Kevin Hyde (trombone.)
"Down Don’t Bother Me," one of the better songs to ever come from Mattison and Trucks, finally made its way to a DTB disc as well. Really, this is The Derek Trucks Band in a nutshell. Soulful vocals, that recognizable guitar tone, percussion, organ…perfection.
It must be hard to juxtapose styles on an album, but Already Free does it and makes it work. Susan Tedeschi takes over vocal duties on "Back Where I Started," a tune penned by Trucks and Warren Haynes. It’s a soft ballad, undoubtedly a tune that Derek plays for their kids to lull them to sleep (in a good way). It’s really the perfect song to be played by a husband and wife, with lyrics that evoke finding one’s way back home.
The disc closes with one of the best songs on the disc, the title track. With overdubs on both vocals and guitar, you have Mattison singing lead and backup, and Derek on both acoustic and electric, creating a multitude of sound in the most tender way. It’s delicately beautiful, a perfect bookend to the powerful disc opener, a true masterpiece and a great way to close out another strong effort from the greatest guitarist of our generation.
Already Free may feature the familiar slide guitar tone of Trucks, but this disc, across the board, is a little different than previous releases. For the more casual music fan, it’s probably the most accessible album released by the band to date. There’s less world music influence evident, and more straight-forward blues rock. But, it’s still Derek Trucks, and he’s proven once again that he can morph from one situation to the other, one genre to the next, with the dexterity of the consumate professional, wise beyond his years.
Hell, it may not be long before people are scribbling a new name on walls across the world.
Already Free is out now on Victor Records