Songlines

The Derek Trucks Band

Let's get the obvious out of the way from the outset: Derek Trucks is a fantastic talent. Blending the soul and sounds of all of his transcontinental elders with a gifted technique reminiscent of Duane Allman, Bonnie Raitt, and Ry Cooder, Trucks brings a fresh imagination to the instrument that is both old and new. This kid is the young Mickey Mantle of the vintage rock world, and one of a paltry few who continue to move a venerable rock and roll art form forward with new and vital ideas. He is also an adept student of the James Brown/B.B. King "more than 300 shows a year" work ethic and, in addition to fronting his own group, plays regularly with the Allman Brothers Band and manages to sit in with other musicians on a frighteningly regular basis. So much for wasted youth.

And so it is, after three years, that he has managed to get himself and his band off the road long enough to record the Derek Trucks Band's fourth studio offering, Songlines. The disc presents a musician and his band that continues to develop, but risks slipping into a comfortable rut. This is their most commercial sounding release to date, with pop-tinged tracks like "Revolution," "(I'd Rather Be) Blind, Crippled and Crazy," and "I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to be Free)" -- all designed for radio airplay. And they're not bad. But they're not particularly inspiring either.

Don't get me wrong. The record has all the right elements: killing slide blues, tight funk, catchy R&B, and ethereal Eastern lines. New vocalist Mike Mattison does a servicable job covering the bluesy, soulful numbers that abound on this record, and the band sounds as good as ever. The problem is, this CD sounds like Soul Serenade and, for that matter, Joyful Noise. A lot like them, but without the thrill of risk and exploration that was brought to those previous releases.

Like many artists before them, Trucks and company are at a point where they've found a formula that works and -- to flog a blues cliché one more time -- stand at a crossroads. They could make two or three more records like this and do fine commericially. They could also continue to evolve and develop their style; pushing forward with each new release. Admittedly, this is a tall order for a group of musicians who set the bar so high, so early in their careers. Here's for hoping that they are up to the challenge on future releases.

If you're already a DTB fan, this record should make its way into your collection. It will provide a familiar soundtrack to your early summer endeavors while giving the band new material for their live shows. If, however, you're new to the Derek Trucks Band and want to see what they're all about, I would recommend grabbing a copy 2002's Joyful Noise. It's a much more suitable introduction to this remarkable young talent and his band.

~ Drew Todd

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