Derek Trucks is a 22-year-old guitar stud who has been playing professionally for seven years already, in his own band and standing in for late uncle Butch Trucks in the touring version of the Allman Brothers Band. Derek is really one of the best guitarists out there, both in terms of chops and range of interests, so it’s not really surprising that this CD is full of blues-based boogie with avant-garde dreams. What’s surprising is that it’s “interesting” and fun and a bit boring at the same time.
Trucks knows that his fanbase is rooted in the blues and the classic rock and the southern-jam-band communities, so he makes sure to include tasteful instrumental showcases for his own technical ability like the title song, “So Close, So Far Away,” and the atmospheric closer, “Frisell.” The main songwriter on these pieces is keyboardist/flautist Kofi Burbridge, who acquits himself solidly, if not exactly with much originality. But it doesn’t really matter when you hear the kind of madness Trucks can stir up, especially on the speed-fusion-jazz “Lookout 31.” It’s just a guitar burner, and it works spectacularly on its own terms… which people who hate “’70s music” will also hate.
But the covers are at the heart of this record. Solomon Burke, the greatest living soul singer in the world, tears the shit up on a cover of his own “Home in Your Heart” and on “Like Anyone Else.” Rahat Fateh Ali Khan threw some qawwali vocals on a track, and guest singer Ruben Blades makes “Kam-mal-lay” into an enjoyable seven-minute Latin guitar workout. (Paging Dr. Santana, you’re needed in this category.)
There really isn’t anyone who could actually outplay Derek Trucks — his work on the guitar is absolutely sickeningly wonderful. But this is an album calculated not to offend anyone or rattle anyone’s ideas about what music is. “Frisell,” the mannered and “safe” closer, has no connection with Bill Frisell’s wild guitar work at all; instrumental “Every Good Boy” wears its “we so funky” vibe on a little thick. Just because you include some special guest stars (and blues belter wife Susan Tedeschi too, on “Baby, You’re Right”) doesn’t automatically mean that you have soul cachet; it just means that your manager has the greenlight to drop some dimes. And that’s where some of these songs begin and end, guitar heroics and all.
I know what my ideal Derek Trucks album would be, but that doesn’t matter a hill of old guitar picks; what matters is the music. And what I hear here is a dude in his early 20s who can play every single thing in the world and hasn’t yet decided who he should sound like. Even the wilder collaborations sound muted, soft, let’s-not-hurt-anybody (Well, okay, not “Lookout 31.” That shit is Dopeness.), AAA-radio friendly. And that’s not where I think he’d do his best work, either.
So whoever had the idea that this should be a really good but kind of boring album should get a stern talking-to. And Derek and Susan should go see Cornelius or Squarepusher or P.Funk or someone who really knows how to push an envelope in a good way. Enough of this Santana-wanna-be stuff: we want to learn who Derek Trucks is, and we’re going to have to know that before he turns into a star.
Derek Trucks: http://www.derektrucks.com