The Derek Trucks Band, "Already Free" (Sony)

The latest album from the young blues practitioner confirms his prowess, yet befuddles with its pedestrian approach. Trucks' unassuming delivery renders this release toothless.

Much of the blame here can be placed on soft songwriting and surprisingly sparse guitars solos from Trucks. Uptempo songs like "Something to Make You Happy" lay the groundwork for Trucks to soar, yet he offers instead only a smattering of uncreative stabs and leads. When the pace slows down, as on "Maybe This Time," Trucks smolders, when he should have produced a raging fire of blues riffs. He's obviously capable, yet refuses.

Trucks is revered among fretboard fans as the latest disciple of Eric Clapton. Yet when the soulful Brit burst onto the scene, he brought life into his licks, whereas Trucks offers merely complacent proficiency.

The maddening search for the next true god of blues-rock guitar continues. The Derek Trucks detour reveals no shortcut.


Erin McCarley, "Love, Save the Empty" (Republic)

A hit on iTunes and at last year's SxSW music fest, this Dallas product is poised to be 2009's Colbie Caillat ("Bubbly") or Sara Bareilles ("Love Song"). She's a natural folkie who knows better, framing her introspective poetry in pretty pop packaging. McCarley isn't shy about professing her love for Fiona Apple: the aggressive piano, the deceptively confident chorus, the sly slapping of a dumb boy. McCarley believes in happy endings more than Apple does.



Plies, "Da Realist" (Slip-n-Slide/Atlantic)

Florida rapper Plies' third album in less than 16 months furthers the hazy bounce of his first two albums, but don't confuse his relaxed swagger for laziness. When it comes to versatility, Plies is something of an ultimate fighter, effective on the street ("All Black"), in the bedroom ("Spend the Night"), and at the lectern ("Gotta Be"). He's also effective at the dinner table -- "Family Straight" talks of impossible reunions -- and in the car, where "Da Realist's" hypnotic beats are sure to sound best.