Live recordings can be many things. They can help fill the void between studio projects, they can fulfill obligations of a recording contract or, if enough thought and purpose are provided, they can reveal the immediacy and dynamics of an artist in ways studio albums strive to but seldom achieve.
Two new live albums by Tedeschi Trucks Band and Gary Clark Jr. opt for the latter. Both are vital documents of artists that thrive in a concert setting but also serve as statements by new generation artists on a soul, blues and rock blend born out of the 1960s. It should also be noted that TTB’s “Live from the Fox Oakland” and Clark’s “Live/North America 2016” are the second concert recordings by both acts, so they are well versed in preserving a live performance for posterity.
On the surface, one might also surmise these works represent the live adventures of gifted guitar stylists. While that holds true for Derek Trucks’ playing throughout “Live from the Fox Oakland,” from the bright Southern soul struts draping “Don’t Drift Away” to his learned jazz excursion during a tripped-out raga reading of George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You,” there is much more happening in these grooves. Topping the ingredients are the vocals of Susan Tedeschi and Mike Mattison, the colors of brass and vocal trios and a cumulative sensibility that makes TTB sound like an astute hybrid of Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” band and Sly and the Family Stone.
The highlights include a gospel-friendly version of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire” (from a performance given two months prior to the master songwriter’s death last fall) and the 14-minute version of the soul-savvy, tent-revival party piece “I Want More” that morphs through passages of Traffic-like psychedelics before falling back to earth with the closing groove of Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice.”
It’s only natural that Clark’s “Live/North America 2016” focuses more succinctly on guitar play, as he is one of the decade’s more heralded successors to Jimi Hendrix’s brand of electric mayhem. Though echoes of Hendrix surface frequently, Clark is no imitator. The opening “Grinder” suggests the late 1960s and early ’70s with its hazy, purposeful groove. But the record later veers onto expressways of vintage soul via Clark’s sleek falsetto during “Cold Blooded,” and a summit with guest vocalist Leon Bridges on “Shake” (not the Otis Redding classic, but an original and far grimier rumble).
Best of all, Clark doesn’t overplay here the way he did on his earlier studio records. A marked maturity reveals itself in the heavy but purposeful grind of “When My Train Pulls In” and a righteously ragged solo take on Elmore James’ “My Baby’s Gone” that beautifully validates Clark’s ascension to guitar rock royalty.