Derek Trucks Band
Out of the Madness
(House of Blues Records)
In the mid-Eighties, a handsome Texan named Charlie Sexton pioneered an unlikely musical trend: the teen-aged blues guitar hero. Renowned throughout the Longhorn State for his uncanny grasp of classic rock and R&B guitar techniques, Sexton signed with a major label and proceeded to de-emphasize his blues roots while playing up his glamourpuss good looks. The ploy failed, and Sexton is now a curious rock and roll footnote.
Despite this abortive attempt at creating an MTV-friendly blues star, the music industry has continued to churn out Sexton-come-latelies with alarming regularity. The result has been a slew of teen-aged blues artists like Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Smokin' Joe Bonamassa -- capable guitarists whose lackluster songwriting abilities are exceeded only by their unfortunate obsession with Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Derek Trucks is the latest student to enroll at Blues High, and he already wins my vote for most likely to succeed. This nineteen-year-old nephew of Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks is a bona fide monster of a picker, a dexterous prodigy capable of playing complex jazz-blues standards on slide guitar. His sophomore album, "Out of the Madness," not only boasts moments of bluesy brilliance, it also features some of the best Seventies-style fusion jazz and funk you're likely to hear.
Judging from the album's jazz-rock thrust, Trucks is influenced as much by fusion pioneers John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana, and Allan Holdsworth, as he is by blues legends Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James. Though Trucks is being promoted as a blues act, the best moments on his album are original fusion compositions such as "Young Funk" and "Pleasant Gardens," in which he combines remarkably fluid jazz picking with gut-wrenching slide improvisations. Unlike his teen-aged peers, Trucks is a fully realized talent. His theoretical knowledge, his tone, and his composing skills are all frighteningly mature.
Trucks's only liability is his taste in blues material. He has an annoying tendency for interpreting stale blues standards like Bobby Bland's "Ain't That Lovin' You" and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Good Morning Little School Girl." That complaint aside, "Out of the Madness" is an astoundingly seasoned work that draws favorable comparisons to Jeff Beck's "Blow by Blow" and Santana's "Caravanserai." At this rate, Trucks will have created his masterpiece by the time he's served his first legal beer.
-- Bruce Britt
(In the Red)
Easily one of the hardest working men in the rock-and-roll underground, ex-Gories guitarist/vocalist Mick Collins has spent the late Nineties letting loose a flood of projects under a variety of names. There have been albums, EPs, and singles by Blacktop, King Sound Quartet, and the Dirtbombs, as well as one-off collaborations with Andre Williams and Lorette Velvette. Horndog Fest, the debut longplayer by the Dirtbombs, cements the garage-rock primitivist's position as a postpunk genius of groove, noise, and sleazy, lecherous vocals. It may also be the best piece of music Collins has released since the Gories called it quits in 1992.
Ambling from the distorted, white-noise scree of "Vixens in Space" and "She Blinded Me with Playtex" to the relentless pound of "I Can't Stop Thinking about It," Collins hasn't strayed from his old band's minimalist attack so much as refined it. "Pheremone Smile" shimmies to an artfully complex groove that the bassless Gories could never have pulled off (and it's no wonder -- the 'bombs includes two pairs of drummers and bassists), and the avant-garde splatter of the band's frenzied experimental blasts ventures into terrain seldom navigated by garage-rock traditionalists. (In the Red, 2627 E. Strong Place, Anaheim, CA 92806-5020)
-- John Floyd
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Brazilian composer Tom Ze is the same kind of radical freethinker as Sun Ra, John Cage, and George Clinton. Like that distinguished group, Ze apparently cares little for what his contemporaries do, not out of snobbery, but because he is too busy trying to duplicate the sounds in his head to listen to the rest of the mediocre world. Ze is an iconoclast with a history of musical explorations. Thirty years ago he gathered a group of Brazilian artists (including Gilberto Gil) and recorded Tropicalia, an album that began a psychedelic, cut-and-paste musical movement in Brazil. (Not coincidentally, Beck's new single is called "Tropicalia.") Ze was using a primitive sampling technique -- tape recorders triggered by doorbells -- 25 years ago. Although nothing on his third release for ex-Talking Head David Byrne's label is as revolutionary as that, Ze has created a deceptively poppy record that incorporates his experimental side with tight song structures.
Imprinted on the CD, in the space usually reserved for song titles, is an essay in which Ze describes Fabrication Defect as a concept record, declaring that the only hope for human survival (against tendencies toward nonthinking, androidlike behavior) is the human genetic code. Defect celebrates the things that give people their anima, life essence, or soul: liberty, love, dancing, and sex. The politics of dancing have been explored by Clinton (and the artwork of Defect bears a striking resemblance to the cartoonish jackets on many Funkadelic platters), but Ze adds a Third World versus First World twist, urging people in developing nations to think for themselves. Updating Clinton's "Free your mind and your ass will follow" credo, Ze says that original thought is dangerous to First World "bosses."
An inability for English-only listeners to understand the lyrics won't detract from the impact of the record, however. With its bossa nova rhythms and airy flutes, Defect is a Brazilian pop record at heart and because Ze uses such touches sparingly, the non-musical elements, such as a power sander at the intro of "Defect 5: O Olho Do Lago (The Eye of the Lake)," aren't obtrusive. Ze is crafty enough to give those sounds a presence without allowing them to become gimmicky. The "brrrrrr" of the power tool carries over from the simple, bass drum and piano opening to the stepped-up, ominously funky bass and percussion of the verse. The oddest moment comes on "Defect 14: Xiquexique" (all of the song titles awkwardly begin with the word defect) with what sounds like a person brushing his teeth to the music while rhythmically opening and closing his mouth. But don't try this at home.
-- David Simutis