The fact that it was Sunday was not lost on Randall Bramblett at Natasha’s. Having already served up several slices of Southern style soul that reflected more than a few churchy touches, the veteran Southern songsmith, keyboardist and saxophonist ignited John the Baptist, a portrait of spiritual displacement, with the protagonist mixing things up in some very inappropriate locales (“You might be an angel, but you look like hell”). The tune, one of eight that Bramblett pulled from his new album, The Bright Spots, also was a launch pad for a level of musical spunk that drove the entire two-set, two-hour-plus performance.
In the case of John the Baptist, that meant clean, beefy rhythmic blasts underscored by jazz-like solos from Bramblett on tenor sax and Nick Johnson on guitar. The results simulated the sound that Steely Dan might possess if it had hailed from below the Mason-Dixon line.
On Whatever That Is, another Bright Spots song, the mood turned seriously funky, with a groove, and a series of accompanying solos (included a guitar break from Johnson that brought the bright, fluid phrasing of jazz journeyman John Scofield to mind) that bounced off a rubbery drum loop from Seth Hendershot.
On the less celebratory side was the finest of the new tunes, Detox Bracelet, a story of devastating sadness surrounding the lifestyle crossroads a substance abuser faces while battling his way to recovery. It unfolded not with sentimentality or undue drama, but with a plain-speaking reflection that played directly to Bramblett’s strengths as a vocalist and songwriter.
There was plenty of less sobering fare as well, including a New Orleans revision of King Grand, the huge piano rolls that Bramblett summoned during Everybody Got It in on the Inside, and the Allman-esque slide guitar accents that Johnson added to Driftin’ into a Woman’s Arms. All three tunes turned back the years to the mid-’70s, when they were cut for Bramblett’s first two albums, That Other Mile and Light of the Night.
Topping it all was the sax-powered charge and shuffle of the set one closer, Used to Rule the World, that proved hearty enough to pull this Sunday evening showcase back into the spirit of Saturday night.