Though a step back chronologically – tracks for this album were recorded in late ’99 and early 2000, before the release of the band’s 2002 Joyful Noise album – Soul Serenade is several steps forward stylistically and progressively for the Derek Trucks Band.
And that’s one of the most satisfying things about this album; save a vocal contribution from Gregg Allman on Ray Charles’ “Drown in My Own Tears,” this is just Trucks and band. No other “special guests” to derail the focus and muck up the thematic flow.
As good as past guests have been, it’s a welcome change of pace to DTB fans to hear the band they see on tour (and only the band they see on tour) setting into stone many of the songs they’ve been playing live for quite awhile.
A revered slide guitarist, he brings components of Eastern and classical Indian music into much of his playing space, and he does a whole lot of it here. You’ll also hear a good dose of Kofi Burbridge’s airy flute, giving it a “world music” slant you don’t often hear in jazz.
The feel here is mellow and laid-back, consistent and cohesive. Fist pumpers and headbobbers need not apply; you’d be more likely to find yourself going into a trance here. It’s not that Trucks doesn’t come across with his usual huge tone and nasty edge; it’s just that he finds select places to bring them out, then tucks them back in just as promptly and unnoticeably.
Five of the seven tracks are covers, including Bob Marley’s “Rasta Man Chant” and the lively Mongo Santamaria/John Coltrane classic “Afro Blue.” Wes Montgomery’s “Bock to Bock” is a neatly structured jazz piece with great unison/harmony playing between Trucks and Burbridge on flute. Wayne Shorter’s “Oriental Folk Song” and the original “Sierra Leone” (featuring Trucks on sarod) are gorgeous. The disc wraps up with a very cool enhanced CD-ROM interview offering Trucks’ take on his music. The disc wraps up with a very cool enhanced CD-ROM interview offering Trucks’ own take on his music.
On Soul Serenade, the DTB sets out to create a unified mood masterpiece a la Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. Mission accomplished. Like those recordings, this one has the necessary ingredients to remain timeless.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.