Songlines – Derek Trucks Band
Columbia Records 92844
Mike Mattison delivers the vocal goods on the latest Derek Trucks Band studio album, Songlines. He is, arguably, my favorite singer on the jam circuit these days and I was waiting for his pipes to be captured properly in the studio. Heck, he’s already proven that he can cut it live with nary a doubt. And so has his boss, the child prodigy/Allman Brother and Southern guitar hero, Derek Trucks. Bassist Todd Smallie shoehorns the band into the groove, drummer Yonrico Scott weds with Smallie in a tight but loose rhythm section, and Kofi Burbridge shines as always on keyboards and an effervescent flute.
What is most confusing is the restraint of Trucks' playing. The samurai wields a mighty sword but… laidback is fine by me; after all, we live in a world where most young guitarists don’t know which note to play and which to leave to the subconscious mind. Trucks is near the top of guitarists who display refined genius and seasoned taste. You don’t play with Gregg Allman if you don’t have chops plus soul, oh wise hippie readers. However, what Trucks appears to lack is that quality of invincibility that every musician must slide into during the course of an album or concert. I once read that in an interview with Led Zeppelin mastermind and producer, Jimmy Page, and the quote rang true to me. I go along with that feeling because it ain’t about arrogance; it’s about crossing miles of sand without any fear of not finding water. Having too much vulnerability and controlled energy as a musician can keep one from following the muse to uncharted land.
This restrained vibe only seems to last for the first half of the album for me. Like the second side of Phish’s Billy Breathes, someone managed to find a way to arrange this R&B collage into a fine portrait. The album hits its stride on a radio friendly take of “Revolution,” caresses an eccentric stutterstep inner tube rather sweetly with “I’d Rather Be Blind, Crippled and Crazy,” and hits a very fine peak with “All I Do.” My wish is that the band expand upon the jam-a-licious potential of this little gem. The six-and-a-half minutes begin with an Afro-Cuban percussion echo effect and another beautifully soulful vocal from Mattison before cracking the prime funk. “Mahjoun” enters an African jungle and slows things down into a nice little cul de sac of bliss before the twin R&B magic hooks of “I Wish I Knew” and “This Sky” curl around the ears and mind to close the album out on a very high note. The band appears ready to break loose into their own brand of Southern rhythm, African funk and East Indian smoke to enhance the intoxicating Mattison vocals and guitar god potential of Derek Trucks.