The ax men cometh — Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Jeff Beck and company — in ‘Crossroads’ salute to guitar gods

Film salutes superstar musicians who played at MSG festival; new CD by Tedeschi Trucks Band gets boost from Derek Trucks’ guitar

Written By: Jim Farber

Fingers fly fast and free in the new movie “Crossroads.” In porn-worthy closeups, the camera oogles the digits of over a dozen guitarists as they reel off riffs and peel through leads.

The hands in question belong to some of the most celebrated six-string players of the last five decades, including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Derek Trucks, Robert Cray and Buddy Guy. They all took part in the fourth annual “Crossroads” guitar festival, which ruled Madison Square Garden for two nights last April.

The movie version — which plays in 500 theaters just for Tuesday night, then comes out on DVD this fall — cuts a 10-hour event down to a quarter that size. But the 2½ hours included feels generous. And, speaking as one who saw both shows, the editors did a good job honing the event’s heart. It helps that the sound and visuals couldn’t be crisper.

Three generations are represented, the eldest in Guy, who bridges Chicago electric blues of the ’50s with the psychedelia that came 10 years later. The latter era dominated the shows, not only through stars of that era like Clapton and Beck, but via younger players affected by it, from 28-year-old Gary Clark Jr. to whiz kid Quinn Sullivan, 14, who brings things full circle. He’s Guy’s protégé.

The movie surveys slide guitar, bottle neck, pedal steel and wah-wah techniques (in Clapton’s “Sunshine of Your Love”). Blues dominates, though there’s room for country, folk, rock and even soul, in Booker T.’s “Green Onions.” It’s fired by Steve Cropper’s cutting licks. The jazz players (like Earl Kluge) didn’t make the cut. We also lose the finale, which had no fewer than 19 axemen teasing each other through Joe Cocker’s “High Time We Went.”

But film viewers won’t miss the shows’ peaks. We see the Allmans offer a rare, and elegant, take on Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done,” while on John Lennon’s “Don’t Let Me Down,” John Mayer and Keith Urban entwine leads in a fraternal conversation. Each rejoinder intensifies the melody.

Still, the most emotional, and scholarly, meeting comes in “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad.” The song, cut by Derek and the Dominoes 43 years ago, matches Clapton, from the original, with Trucks and Warren Haynes, whose Southern-rock accents mirror the work of the late Duane Allman. This version doesn’t have the violence of the D&D take, which included what could be the single most electrifying set of guitar solos in recorded history. But the rearrangement finds a new beauty and allows the three guitarists to idealize “Crossroads” mission: to spin solos both emotionally specific and technically fine.

For where to see the movie in your area Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., check Crossroadsguitarfestival.com.
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Tedeschi Trucks Band

‘Made Up Mind’

Columbia/Legacy

Three Stars

There’s a handy shorthand for the sound of the Tedeschi Trucks Band. It’s Bonnie Raitt fronting the Allman Brothers.

That’s no surprise, considering the two leaders of this 10-piece band are Derek Trucks, who spins glorious solos for the Allmans, and Susan Tedeschi, the grinding blues singer whose timbre bears a striking resemblance to Raitt’s.

More, the band’s namesakes have been married for years. But as with many couples, there’s an imbalance of power. She’s solid. He’s inspired. The disparity continues to inform what’s strong, and what’s frustrating, about their albums. “Made Up Mind” is the band’s most focused work. That’s good for the material, but troublesome for the song structures. Simply put, the cuts could use more Trucks. He’s a flat-out genius and every time he solos, or even sneaks in some extra licks, the workmanlike music becomes something more.

Even in his most confined state, he’s a marvel. Trucks’ riffs and runs conjure a different character in each song.Throughout, Tedeschi’s vocals have admirable bluster but not enough hurt. A song as strong as “Idle Wind,” which recalls ’70s Traffic, can help. But in general we’re talking jam-band fare only the guitar makes great.

jfarber@nydailynews.com

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