Derek Trucks may be best known these days -- if he's known at all -- for his current stint as a guitarist in the Allman Brothers band (along with his uncle, drummer Butch Trucks). But he's got a solid solo career, too, and after hearing Live at Georgia Theater, calling Trucks a blues-rock guitarist is a little like calling Michael Jordan just another basketball player; that is to say, it's a more than a tad reductive.
Culled from an October 2003 performance, Live... all but explodes with musical experimentation and fusion. Rock, jazz, gospel, blues, and Americana are all stewed together under Trucks's adventurous ear and steady hand. The results are nothing less than amazing, especially considering Trucks is only 24 years old. (By comparison, I'm 24 and I've never shown mastery over one musical style, let alone a half-dozen, and I'm not married to blues guitarist/hottie Susan Tedeschi, and Trucks is. Nobody ever said life was fair.)
Where was I? Oh yeah, the CD review. Aside from the usual live concert disc gripes inherent to the format -- the "you-had-to-be-there" vibe, the album length (two hours on disc feels a lot longer than two hours at a concert venue), a few passages that are presumably hypnotizing live that are narcotizing on disc -- Live at Georgia Theater is a great example of the vitality and community of live music. Every musician in Trucks's band is working in, um, concert, and pulling each other to greater heights and every one gets their moment in the musical sun, too. To wit, on opener "Kam-ma-lay", Kofi Burbridge's jazzy flute builds on Trucks's clean guitar lines, which bloomed from Count Mbutu and Yonrico Scott's percussion section. Each song boasts enough different musical passages to keep even the most ADD-addled fan rapt. I'm not a jazz guy, so I don't know the difference between inspired improvisation and musical wanking in instances like Mbutu and Scott's rumbling intro to, and Burbridge's Zappa-esque flute freak out on, "Angola", but such moments held my attention, and judging from the hoots 'n' hollers on the disc, the crowd appreciated the goings-on too.
It's not just instrumental mastery on Live... either. Vocalist Mike Mattison's smoky, soulful voice is the perfect tool for both blues laments (the ambling "Gonna Move", blues chestnut "Leaving Trunk", and the lost-my-baby "Feel So Bad") and uplifting gospel-tinged numbers like the cry for freedom "I Wish I Knew", where he keeps his emotions in check rather than opting for histrionics. Pardon the cliché, but Live at the Georgia Theater is the sound of a band operating at the peak of its powers.
Earlier I ran down a laundry list of live-disc gripes, which, hey, you can either take or leave. But here's a legitimate complaint: Live at Georgia Theater can't be bought at any store. It's available only through iTunes and the band's website. Luddite Derek Trucks fans, write (no email!) your congressman. This album is a major artistic statement, an affirmation of musical togetherness... not some throwaway b-side or fan club-only Christmas single; it deserves a better fate! The Powers That Be have spoken, though if you're an open-minded music lover willing to embrace blues, jazz, gospel, etc., in one lovingly-crafted serving, Live at Georgia Theater is an album for which it's worth jumping through a few extra hoops to get.