Songlines will be a likely candidate for Best of 2006 lists in any number of genresjazz, rock, jam bandand not just because it continues the eclectic course set by Derek Trucks since he began recording. (Covers included here range from Rahsaan Roland Kirk to Taj Mahal and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.) This album completely captures the diverse strengths of the group and its leader.
Loyal DTB fans may be disappointed looking at the track list to find material played regularly in concert over the past couple years, but even they will be heartened by the way the group rearranges tracks such as "Volunteered Slavery, where an emphasis on vocals reinvents the tune from its live counterpart. Equally enticing for aficionados as well as novice listenersto whom Songlines is directly aimedis "Sahib Teri Bandi - Maki Madni," the exotic likes of which retain the mystical resonance of live performance. The piece gains impact by its juxtaposition with the acoustic blues of "Chevrolet, a coupling that suggests call and response is not limited to the Mississippi delta.
One of the most prominent virtues of Songlines (the title was taken from an aboriginal tale) is the down-to-earth presence of vocalist Mike Mattison. His usually somewhat gruff tones can give way to a soulful falsetto, as on "Crow Jane, but either way, Mattison's singing is free of affectation and replete with focused emotion. Along with producer Jay Joyce, the vocalist also collaborates on original songs like the album's understated closer, "This Sky, thereby adding personality to the unit with more than just his voice.
Versatility earmarks virtually all members of The Derek Trucks Band lineup. Kofi Burbridge's syncopated keyboard soundshe also sings and plays flute!bubble continuously during "All I Do, leading the way in and out of an instrumental break that sounds like nothing so much as the DTB in full flight on stage, where their improvisational instincts are nearly impeccable. Whether punched in or captured as it happened, this is the art of studio recording at its finest, all the more so since it's preserved with a fulsome clarity, capturing Todd Smallie's resounding bass lines as they course continuously in and around the lithe drumming of Yonrico Scott. The inscrutable presence of percussionist Count M'Butu accentuates the attributes of his partners in the rhythm section.
Guitar hero worshippers may fault this new DTB work because there's not enough guitar. Yet one mark of Derek Trucks' humility is that he doesn't call attention to himself. You almost don't notice him till his self-composed "Mahjoun appears as the tenth track. A combination of lyricism and pure power t distinguishes Trucks' guitar playing and his dexterity isn't relegated to either slide playing or fingerpicked lead work: the sinuous quality of the former only highlights its vicious edge, while the gritty texture of the latter underscores a beautifully liquid tone.
Accordingly, Derek Trucks' deceptively unassuming presence becomes the focal point that inspires his band, elevating Songlines to an absolutely stellar level.
Track Listing: Volunteered Slavery; I'll Find My Way; Crow Jane; Sahib Teri
Bandi - Maki Madni; Chevrolet; Sailing On; Revolution; I'd Rather Be Blind, Crippled And
Crazy; All I Do; Mahjoun; I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free); This Sky.
Personnel: Derek Trucks: guitar and dobro; Mike Mattison: vocals; Kofi Burbridge:
keyboards, flute, vocals; Todd Smallie: bass, vocals; Yonrico Scott: drums,percussion and
vocals; Count M'Butu: percussion; Jay Joyce: keyboards.
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