Eclectic youth: Trucks takes on the slide

It may be the dead of winter, but sandals, hackey-sacks, and tie-dyed t-shirts are sure to make their appearance at Starr Hill this Friday, December 6, for the bluesey-jam/world act know as the Derek Trucks Band.
Derek Trucks is the nephew of longtime Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks, and the Allman Brothers’ southern/blues-rock sounds– Duane Allman’s slide guitar virtuosity in particular– are both large influences on the 23-year-old prodigy’s latest outing. But providing a blast from the past is only one part of the Trucks Band sound, and those going expecting to hear a set of songs written with a nod to Allman classics will be strongly disappointed.
The Derek Trucks Band’s 2002 release, Joyful Noise, is an eclectic mix of musical styles, from straight blues to funk to Latin and beyond. Trucks does not sing for the group, instead letting his guitar say what needs to be said. Slide-guitar is Trucks’ forte, and in this field he’s worthy of an honorary degree from a prestigious-yet-hip University.
About half of the tracks on Joyful Noise are instrumental, where Trucks’ guitar is really allowed to shine as the center of the piece, but even on the songs with vocals, Trucks’ grooving lines can be found bubbling up in all the right places.
The influences of B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and yes, Duane Allman, are evident in Trucks’ deft, light, and jammy playing. The group employs some intriguing guest singers when vocals are needed: ‘60s soul pioneer Soloman Burke guests on two tracks, sounding as vibrant and full as a man half his age. Otis Blackwell’s “Home in Your Heart,” a ‘60s pop/soul gem is the first of these, with Trucks’ guitar leads sitting admirably between Burke’s vocal lines– imagine a Stax hit with B.B. King as a member of the backing band.
Pakistani vocalist Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sings lead on “Maki Madni,” a Sufi chant. Sung in his native tongue, the mystical sounding track features Trucks at his most reined in, often repeating Ali Khan’s chanted/sung vocal lines close to verbatim. Salsa singer Reuben Blades guests on “Kam-ma-lay,” a tune with a decidedly Latin feel. Blades sings in his native Spanish on the track, and Trucks provides simple chords and notes, only indulging his propensity for the riff during the guitar solo.
How the group will pull off the large cadre of guest vocalists onstage will be interesting. Ali Khan at least will most likely be unavailable, but the band is so good at what they do, and many of their songs are instrumental pieces anyway, that most lovers of the jam will probably not mind the differences between the recorded and live versions.
The Derek Trucks Band goes from Latin to jazz to blues in a heart beat, and for at least the nature-loving segment of Charlottesville, this act should provide the dose of extended musical virtuosity needed to get through the cold, cold winter.

Derek Trucks Band with All Thumbs Trio is at Starr Hill, December 6. $13, 10pm.

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