Joyful Noise

The Derek Trucks Band

Sony, 2002

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Probably the single most amazing thing about this album is the simple fact that it's on a major label. Albums this eclectic and adventurous just don't get made on the big boys' dime anymore these days.

You have to wonder if the bandleader's pedigree played a role. The nephew of long-time Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks, young Derek picked up the guitar at age nine, and by age 12 was sitting in with the Allmans. By the time he was old enough to buy beer he'd performed with the likes of Bob Dylan, Joe Walsh, Buddy Guy and Stephen Stills -- names to give any label exec pause. But still…

What Trucks and Band deliver on Joyful Noise is a multi-flavored confection that hopscotches through blues, funk, fusion, world music and r & b, with half the tunes being instrumental jams and the other half featuring a stellar roster of guest vocalists. This kind of sustained diversity could have produced a disjointed album, if not for the smart approach taken to sequencing. With a pair of instrumentals starting things off and another pair finishing things out, the album actually has a nice build and flow.

The band -- Trucks (guitar), Todd Smallie (bass & vocals), Yonrico Scott (drums, percussion & vocals) and Kofi Burbridge (keyboards, flute & vocals) -- kicks things off with the title track, a snappy little blues shuffle that accelerates late in the going into a full-on jam spotlighting first Burbridge's superb organ work and then Trucks' amazing touch on the slide. Here and elsewhere, Trucks' slide-playing is so fluid and expressive as to give him a true and unique "voice" on the instrument. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That voice leads and soars again on track two ("So Close, So Far Away"), a steady, steamy midtempo number -- and then we're into the vocal section. Tracks three and six feature the rich blues growl of Solomon Burke, with the former ("Home In Your Heart") offering particularly spectacular soloing from Trucks over a churning bed of blues-funk. Track four ("Maki Madni"), though, is where you understand just how far from the beaten path this group ventures, as noted Pakistani vocalist Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan unearths the mystic nexus between Karachi and the Mississippi Delta, melding purebred blues with the rhythmic wailing of Sufi qawwali music, and emerging with a uniquely exotic hybrid.

Completing the cultural cornucopia are Ruben Blades and Susan Tedeschi. Blades sings and provides the Spanish lyrics for "Kam-Ma-Lay," on which the Trucks Band does one of the best imitations I've ever heard of the Santana Band. Starting out with a pulsing bass figure over percussion, the track builds, adding flute, drums and finally Trucks' spectacular solos, full of bent notes and sustain that would make Carlos nod and grin.

Tedeschi, a talented blues guitarist/singer/songwriter in her own right in addition to being married to Trucks, contributes a sultry, sassy, sexy lead vocal on James Brown's "Baby, You're Right." Closing things out are a pair of instrumentals that are as brilliantly executed as they are different from one another. "Lookout 31" is nearly atonal jazz fusion, a free-form piece where notes skip by like stones, while "Frisell" (by all appearances a tribute to noted jazz guitarist Bill Frisell) offers a slow, masterful contemplation.

This is one of the most diverse albums I've heard in some time. As such, I can't say I wasn't thrown a bit by some of the stylistic shifts and musical choices made -- I was -- but the end result is a pretty terrific album that showcases one of the most versatile, talented quartets around today. These are four pure players who make a Joyful Noise indeed together, and this disc is a very worthy purchase for any fan of roots music or blues guitar who also has a sense of adventure.

Rating: B+

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