[23 January 2003]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It’s hard to believe that guitar whiz Derek Trucks is a mere 23 years old. After all, he and his band have four albums under their belts, and he’s been serving as the Allman Brothers Band’s slide guitarist for the past few years (his uncle Butch Trucks is also a band member), but don’t let his age fool you. He’s one mighty fine guitar player, sounding decades more mature than his age would suggest. Obsessed with music from all over the world, not just the blues-rock that you’d expect, Trucks is striving toward something a little more special, more timeless than mere barroom blooze, blending instrumentals with guest vocalists.
On their new album Joyful Noise, the Derek Trucks Band don’t merely dip their toes into world music, they dive headfirst into it, creating a meandering soundscape that, despite slowing down a couple of times, provides the listener with an enjoyable time. The opening track, “Joyful Noise”, has a straight-ahead, funky groove to it, sounding like Booker T & the MGs at a spiritual revival, sounding as ecstatic as the title suggests. “Every Good Boy” continues in a similar funk vein, this time carried by a slinky organ lick, and some simple, yet catchy solo lines by Trucks. The blues-tinged ballads “So Close, So Far Away” and “Frisell” are decent, but start to sound plodding after several minutes.
Fortunately, those are the only two disappointing tracks, and the rest of Joyful Noise is very good. Veteran soul singer Solomon Burke, who is experiencing quite the career revival this year, lends his fine, fine voice to two tracks. On the superb “Home in Your Heart”, a tune he originally recorded in 1963, Burke sounds like a man who hasn’t aged a day in forty years, and on the new song “Like Anyone Else”, he steals the show with his powerful voice. The collaboration with Pakistani Sufi singer Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (nephew of the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) on the Qawwali song “Maki Madni” is an interesting change in pace, with Rahat’s distinctive voice meshing beautifully with the band’s Eastern rhythms and Trucks’ solo harmonies. Salsa stalwart Ruben Blades guests on the Latin effort “Kam-ma-lay”, to great effect, and Mrs. Derek Trucks herself, noted blues artist Susan Tedeschi pops in to sing on the Joe Tex song “Baby You’re Right”.
Although Derek Trucks is the bandleader, the quartet, through its relentless touring, has evolved into quite a tight little unit itself. Bassist Todd Smallie has been playing with Trucks for nearly a decade already, and he and veteran percussionist Yonrico Scott provide an expert rhythm section, able to leap from genre to genre in the blink of an eye. The versatile Kofi Burbridge provides some good keyboard work (especially on the Hammond organ on the title track) and some pretty darn amazing flute playing, as well as supplying some original compositions of his own. The band’s great versatility shines on the electric jazz composition by Burbridge called “Lookout 31”; the quartet’s syncopation is impeccable, as Smallie and Scott hold the fort while Trucks and Burbridge let loose with the most adventurous harmonies and solos on the album.
However, Derek Truck still is the star of the show, and his guitar solos are the album’s main focus. Far from a self-indulgent, noodling showman who opts for bland style, Trucks goes for the more understated substance. Like Carlos Santana, he lets the notes speak for themselves, stretching them out soulfully, in the same way a horn player sustains notes, but unlike Carlos Santana, he’s not surrounding himself with mediocre, popular guest musicians in a cheesy move to sell units. The album is slick, but not overproduced in the least, the jamming never gets too self-indulgent, and Trucks’ diverse choices in guest vocalists, and his band’s undeniable talent, make Joyful Noise sparkle with life.