Featuring covers of a 700-year-old Pakistani Qawwali song (“Sahib Teri Band/Maki Madni”), a traditional blues-folk tune (“Crow Jane”), and a Jamaican reggae number (“Sailing On”), calling Songlines diverse would be like calling MTV lame – a real understatement.
Likewise, to say that Derek Trucks may be one of the most talented guitarists in history is an equally offensive underexaggeration. In “I’d Rather Be Blind, Crippled & Crazy” the drums kick it off with a beat that’s atypical but intuitive: you’ve never heard it before, but you can get down to it. The guitar shows up to the party early and goes to get a drink. Next the bass drops its wah-wah’d round-and-out pulsing groove-line into the scene. The old-school Hammond organ in the corner stammers out a funked-in way-out played-off-the-drums chant, lets out a scream, then the guitar jumps out on the floor. At first you think the six-string spent too much time at the bar with the backup singer, but nah, its cool: effects switch over and beat stays bumpin’. This song is for groovin’.
“Sahib Teri Band/Maki Madni” is a complex composition. Right off the bat I feel like I’m in the intro to Santana’s “Abraxas”, except Trucks’s guitar line is more full and powerful: brimming with the latent energy of a uranium mine. When the anxious drum beat enters, you realize you’re actually strapped to an Acme rocket. Before you see the coyote off to the side laughing, the rocket takes off with Road Runner’s speed: one minute your flying thousands of feet high through Icarian arpeggios, just to suddenly drop into subterranean depths to a place where notes flow like molten lava. Returning, you barely crack the surface into a purgatory where microtones pour out of the searing slide guitar like warm honey and dirt: mellifluous and sweet but gritty and rough.
“Chevrolet” is barely two minutes tall, but I’ll be damned if you aren’t singin’ along, drummin’ on your leg and stomping a foot by the end of this back-alley blues wailer. If “Chevrolet” were a witch’s brew the recipe would be one tablespoon grit, one part gospel choir from concentrate, the blues of two blindmen, three shots of B-151, and B.B. King’s left leg.
“Sailing On” is relaxed, just-finished-your-last-final-relaxed. Sunny-Sunday-afternoon-without-a-worry-relaxed. Now your might get the brilliance of this album: no other can make you feel this way. Trucks can.
The Sky is a melody shows how power can emerge from notes perfectly placed. The vocals remind me of one of Dave Matthew’s old (i.e., not sold-out mainstream crap) songs. The saxophone-guitar-flute combo just works: the emergence of each instrument from a harmonious nucleus feels like an expansion out of the an organic core into the ambient space in the back of your mind’s ear.
In the beginning the world was sung into existence by totemic elders who wondered about singing out the names of everything, giving the cosmos order, form, and beauty. The paths they walked were Songlines.