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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1296

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Derek Trucks Band: Joyful Noise
by George Graham

(Columbia 86507 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/25/2002)

Over the centuries, the art-form of music, has attracted instrumental prodigies at almost every generation. From Mozart to Béla Fleck there have been remarkable performers who emerged at a early age. Rock music has had its share of prodigious young musicians such as Stevie Wonder, Steve Winwood, Richard Thompson, Janis Ian, and current notable young luminaries like Johnny Lang. Of course, rock has had plenty of manufactured youth pop stars, created by marketing departments, but we're talking about instrumentalists emerging in their teens with their impressive musicianship.

This week's artist qualified as a prodigy when he appeared on the music scene a few years ago in his mid teens. And now he's back with another outstanding album, his third under his own name, now at the age of 23. He is Derek Trucks, and his new CD, with his Derek Trucks Band is called Joyful Noise.

Atlanta native Derek Trucks, who is the nephew of Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks, first started in music at age 9, when he was intrigued by finding an acoustic guitar at a yard sale for $5.00. He bought it, and after at first not showing all that much interest in it, began to learn what he could from his father, and family friends, and within a year, he had gotten himself a better guitar plunged into music, and by age 11, was already performing professionally, with his father serving as tour manager. It got to the point that his father arranged for schooling on the road so Derek could finish high school. Derek formed his first band at age 12, and at age 15, met with his current, and long-time bass player Todd Smallie in Atlanta.

Trucks soon began attracting attention for his impressive musicianship, along with his eclecticism, borrowing from jazz and blues, as well as jam-band rock in his approach. The eponymous Derek Trucks Band debut album, released in 1997, when he was 18, was a remarkable record for its level of playing, and its interesting stylistic mix, from jazz tunes to Southern-style rock. He followed that up the next year with Out of Madness. Since then, Trucks has been keeping himself busy, not only with his own group, but recording with a great one-off jam band Frogwings, with his uncle Butch Trucks, and then in 1999 getting the call to play guitar with The Allman Brothers Band. Since then, he was been dividing his time between his own group and Allmans, and over the past two years playing the equivalent of a gig every other day -- over 360 in 2000 and 2001.

Trucks' new CD is also marked by the eclecticism that was characteristic of his debut release, but this time that wide musical range extends to some interesting guests, including R&B pioneer Solomon Burke, Latin music luminary Rubén Blades, and Pakistani singer Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the nephew of the famous late Qawwali-style vocalist. Also making an appearance is another up-and-coming blues artist Susan Tedeschi, who now happens to be Mrs. Derek Trucks.

In addition to his long-time colleague Smallie, who performs on a 6-string electric bass, the Derek Trucks Band's drummer is Yonrico Scott, some 20 years Trucks' senior. On keyboards is Kofi Burbridge, a veteran of Frogwings and another great southern rock jam band The Aquarium Rescue Unit. Burbridge concentrates mainly on classic-style Hammond B-3 organ. Also appearing regularly on the CD is another Aquarium Rescue Unit veteran, percussionist Count M'Butu. Everybody in the regular band but Trucks contributes to the vocals.

Trucks has evolved a interesting and fairly distinctive guitar sound, resembling a mix of the Allman Brothers Band and Santana, and that is reflected in the styles he undertakes, from bluesy jams to vaguely Latin-influenced, with a Latin undercurrent present on several of the tracks. Playing almost exclusively electric guitar, Trucks' fretwork is as impressive in its tastefulness as it is for his virtuosity.

Leading off is the R&B-Gospel influenced title track, Joyful Noise, which turns out to be well-named, with its upbeat, soulful sound. <<>>

Trucks shows some of his Santana influence on the instrumental track called So Close, So Far Away. It's a good showcase for Trucks' fine guitar work. <<>>

The first of the guest vocals is Home In Your Heart, one of two tracks on the CD featuring soul pioneer Solomon Burke. The result is a kind of a cross between Memphis soul and Southern rock. <<>>

Featuring acclaimed Panamanian singer-songwriter Rubén Blades is Kam-Ma-Ley. It gives Trucks another chance to show his Latin chops, and together the band creates an infectious piece that is one of the CD's highlights. <<>> Kofi Burbridge gets out his flute for the track. <<>>

Perhaps the most unexpected musical fusion on the CD is Maki Madni, based on a Sufi chant, and featuring another musical nephew -- Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whose uncle was the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. In the wake of September 11, the Pakistani vocalist could not get a visa to travel to the US to record his part, so instead the tapes were flown back and forth, and Rahat recorded his part in his home country. Despite the lack of physical contact between the vocalist and the instrumentalists, the result is quite absorbing. <<>>

Trucks and company show their jazz-rock fusion influence on the instrumental called Lookout 31 by Kofi Burbridge. It's rather angular in sound, in a way it sounds a bit dated, since most of the jazz-rock fusion players have moved beyond this style. <<>>

A contrast to that is the straight blues of Baby, You're Right, written by James Brown, and featuring Trucks' wife, Susan Tedeschi. Everyone sounds as if they are having a good time, with fine performances all the around. <<>>

The CD ends with a piece called Frisell, named no doubt after the iconoclastic jazz guitarist Bill Frisell. It's another highlight of the CD with its atmospheric sound. <<>>

The Derek Trucks Band's new third CD Joyful Noise is a first-rate recording from one of the bright young lights on the rock guitar scene. In addition to being a fine player, Trucks' musical eclecticism is also impressive, incorporating everything from old-fashioned soul to unexpected world-music influences. With his current position with the Allman Brothers Band, Trucks is dividing his time between his own music and his touring with the Allmans, but he did manage to find the time to make this most worthwhile recording, that shows his maturing into a versatile and facile player, after making a splash as a teenaged prodigy. The mix of music, and the special guest vocalists adds to the CD's artistic merit.

Sonically, the recording is a bit of a disappointment. As a major label release, the CD suffers from heavy compression to the point that bass notes affect the volume of the other instrumentation. The blind quest for loudness also took its toll on the high frequency clarity. (An analysis of the audio waveforms on the CD showed significant and frequent digital clipping.) We'll give it about a B-minus.

The rock world has seen its share of musical prodigies, some of whose careers were short-lived. Derek Trucks proves that he was no flash in the pan, and we look forward to his achieving ever greater artistic heights.

(c) Copyright 2002 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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