Derek Trucks Band: Songlines

Derek Trucks Band
Songlines
Columbia

Béla Fleck & the Flecktones
The Hidden Land
Columbia

Derek Trucks can't get enough of the guitar: Not only does the 26-year-old virtuoso lead his own group, but since 1999 he's also been a member of the Allman Brothers Band—a job many instrumentalists (or marijuana growers) might consider a full-time gig. On Songlines, the new studio disc by the Derek Trucks Band, Trucks makes no effort to conceal the reason he got into music. Each track functions primarily as a showcase for Trucks's playing, which usually justifies the focus: He's technically proficient, of course—dig his hot House of Blues voodoo in "I'll Find My Way"—but he's a player of deep feeling, too. In "Sahib Teri Bandi/Maki Madni," a long, hypnotic medley of Pakistani qawwali music, Trucks mimics the voice of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, bending notes more dreamily and less precisely than he usually does. And in the opener "Volunteered Slavery," he channels the soul-jazz spirit of the tune's composer, Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Still, as its title suggests, Songlines is the most songful album Trucks has made so far. The presence of raspy-voiced singer Mike Mattison, the band's newest addition, gives much of the material a more conventional blues-rock vibe; "Chevrolet" and "I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to Be Free)" could be outtakes from the Black Crowes' catalog. But it's more than Mattison. The eclectic program of Songlines—which veers from the public-domain country blues "Crow Jane" to Toots Hibbert's mellow reggae tune "Sailing On"—suggests that Trucks is hungry (in a good way) for a crossover from his jam-band base.

On some level, banjo master Béla Fleck has already accomplished that crossover: He's collaborated with mainstream titans like Dave Matthews, and he's won a shitload of Grammys. So Fleck can afford to indulge his eccentricities on The Hidden Land, a supernoodly set of instrumental bluejazz jams on which songcraft trails a distant second to showing up that old lightweight Pat Metheny. Fleck plays marvelously, as do the Flecktones—particularly bassist Victor Wooten, who finds the funk in Bach. But beyond "Who's Got Three?," a wistful throwback ballad, Fleck has little truck with memorable tunes.

 
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