Chicago has a long history as the original house of blues. So, it seems damned appropriate that a Southern guitar hero could venture up north, and pay his own respects in the Windy City to its storied legacy. And offer an update or three on that blues rock motif while he’s at it. The Derek Trucks Band have released their first live album since 2004’s winning Live at Georgia Theatre, and it is another career-defining moment for the group, currently on a hiatus while Trucks works with his wife, Susan Tedeschi.
Roadsongs is a 14-track, two-disc extravaganza with some of the DTB’s most inspired playing, pre-hiatus, or otherwise. Recorded at a two-night stand at Chicago’s Park West, the band methodically burns through their catalogue with an emphasis on several of the tracks from 2009’s Almost Free, superb covers, and other original material. Perhaps the key to the highway, which immediately manifests itself here, is the way that Trucks’ slide guitar work developed a unique sonic fingerprint within this context after years of continuous duty under the vast Allman Brothers Band umbrella.
Having a consistently strong band with a penchant for intercontinental sonic cuisine has also helped Trucks to follow his muse. With Todd Smallie on bass, Yonrico Scott on drums, Kofi Burbridge on keys and flute, Count M’Butu on percussion, and the warm and soulful Mike Mattison on lead vocals, Trucks and company also add brass layers to an already formidable group. Joining DTB in Chicago was Mace Hibbard on tenor saxophone, Paul Garrett on trumpet, and Kevin Hyde on trombone. The horn trio is of particular note on “I’ll Find My Way,” “Sailing On,” “Afro Blue,” and “Anyday.”
Elsewhere, always everywhere, Trucks and his band deliver an impressive performance, which defies its inherent and instinctual inclination to lean back, conjure the blues, and riff away. Instead, you can feel the band leaning forward on these tracks, swallowing Chicago, the Deep South, New Orleans, and Africa whole, and delivering their own version of what it feels like to be an American in 2010 still playing the blues, and finding a new, incendiary way to communicate its raw, energetic spirit. Trucks not only brought his A game to Chicago, he brought everything else, too. Continuing to defy expectations and cynical and jaded guitar-drenched ears, the musician plays with a passionate fire, which is quite extraordinary, and fairly impossible to ignore. The man burns on every note, and one finds it pointless to single out highlights. Derek Trucks is the highlight.
However, as the band leans into these tunes, pushing them from within, tethered to a keen, magical touch for posterity, featuring some of Trucks’ finest solos to date, DTB delivers rich, magnificent versions of Dylan’s “Down in the Flood,” “Get What You Deserve,” “Down Don’t Bother Me,” an excellent cover of “Key to the Highway,” and towering renditions of “I Know,” and “Get Out My Life Woman/Who Knows.” But one would be hard-pressed to find a more defining DTB moment than the roaring thunder of improvisational fire which ignites “Afro Blue” with its astounding series of solos by Trucks on guitar and Burbridge on flute, and a blistering contribution by the horns.
In the end, the Derek Trucks Band finds its ethereal place amongst their hallowed live brethren on this track written by Mongo Santamaría, and popularized by John Coltrane, by circuling the arc of its freeform parameters, and breaking loose to create their own bold statement. And with that message, captured on that track and throughout this fine two-disc live document recorded in Chicago, the home of the blues, one can only hope that DTB’s hiatus is short-lived, and can continue to build upon the foundation it has carefully constructed over a long, gravity-defying 16 years of magical audio flight.