Artist: Randall Bramblett
Album: Devil Music
Label: New West
Release Date: 09/18/2015
An album so nice, we reviewed it twice! Here are two different takes on Devil Music by our senior writers, Tom Clarke and Jim Hynes.
Howlin’ Wolf cried all the way to Memphis after meeting his estranged mother and being turned away for playing devil music. That sad encounter was the impetus for the oddly soul-rockin’ “Devil Music,” and in ways, the other ten songs comprising Randall Bramblett’s tenth album. Although not a blues record in any customary way, black and white human conditions rooted in the South bear extraordinary examination throughout it. “Spider web hanging in the arms of my chair. Dust on the countertop; get me away from here. Someday I’m gonna get myself fixed up, take you on a trip down to Shellman Bluff.” A disturbed man’s eerie pondering of what could have been with his “Angel Child” becomes an absolutely fantastic song. And what better otherworldly guitar sound than Derek Trucks’ to illustrate the utter anguish? But next, Bramblett and his fine band drive hard, extolling the virtues of keeping one’s “Pride in Place.” Those juxtaposing thoughts—and grooves—are just the tip of the formidable iceberg here. Mark Knopfler adds groaning guitar to the series of notions of being “Dead in the Water,” and the Rolling Stones’ Chuck Leavell rollicks on piano in the bizarre “Reptile Pilot”—the two old Sea Level bandmates having a natural ball together. Bramblett’s long association with the Allman Brothers family of players, plus Steve Winwood and Bonnie Raitt, among others, is one thing. These are the albums that demonstrate what a stupendous all-around artist he his. Written, produced, sung, and played with unique perspective and awesome pizzazz, this highly inventive Devil Music is incredibly cool to just sit back with and enjoy.
– Tom Clarke
Randall Bramblett’s touring schedule alone would make you think that he is just a regional Southern musician, but the musical community that includes Bonnie Raitt, Bettye LaVette, Hot Tuna, Delbert McClinton and others have been in his camp for years. Bramblett’s pedigree includes Sea Level, Gregg Allman and 16 years as Steve Winwood’s bandmate, yet unbeknownst to far too many, Randall has also been prolific as a solo artist; this is his tenth solo release, and sixth with New West Records. Not only does Bramblett possess the soulful vocal chops of his great family genes, but he’s a solid singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, playing keyboards, sax and acoustic guitar. He has a real flair for catchy, infectious, melodic tunes, but this time around he dials up mostly a funky, nasty groove inspired by the biography of Howlin’ Wolf, Moanin at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf.
“When I wrote “Devil Music” about Howlin’ Wolf’s meeting his estranged mother, I knew I had the feel and the heart of the record. Songs like “Dead in the Water,” “Whiskey Headed Woman” and “Bottom of the Ocean” all sprang from the tug-of-war between blues and religion, salvation and damnation” says Bramblett. “The overdriven vocal sound we used helped bring home the pain and defiance we wanted on these songs. The way I’m singing is more intense. The songs have this fundamental power that I just needed to express… I’m pullin’ from a deep well on this album. It’s my experience of black and white culture in the south, and how it feels to grow up here with all the religion and pain and conflict and joy- and then there’s all that dancing…”
Not only does Bramblett draw from many sources in the song lyrics that often paint some very weird character sketches, he also improvises off what are often one chord structures to conjure up his patented mix of jazz and psychedelia to color the R&B and soul. High profile guests like Mark Knopfler, Derek Trucks and Chuck Leavell make solid contributions, but it’s the power of Bramblett and his band—featuring twin guitarists Davis Causey and Nick Johnson– that carry the album. Bramblett really can’t be easily compared to anyone else – his signature sound is just his own, period.
– Jim Hynes