critic’s pick 292: randall bramblett, ‘devil music’

devil music“There’s a crack in my dreams where the truth slips through,” sings Randall Bramblett in the midst of his splendid new album Devil Music. Like so many of the under-the-radar records he has fashioned over the last four decades, the veteran Georgia songsmith sings of things imperfect. Not tragic, necessarily, and certainly not sentimental – just people and places, often with a poetic Southern grace, that sit outside of the trajectory of everyday life. View any of the outstanding releases he has put his name to and you are met with a sense of elegant unease. Shoot, even the title Devil Music suggests something dark yet involving.

While his solo albums have been amazingly consistent – especially the string of records he has released since 1998 – Devil Music ups the rhythmic charge a notch. These tunes are fueled by rugged, swampy grooves with fewer time outs for ballads. The resulting music is churchy and soulful, as on the opening Dead in the Water where Bramblett’s Hammond organ playing whips around the tune like a late October wind. That’s a neat trick, too, considering the guitar artillery mounted for the song. Squaring off are Davis Causey (Bramblett’s guitar sidekick since the ‘70s, including his stint with Chuck Leavell in Sea Level), Nick Johnson (the young guitar buck that has been an integral member of Bramblett’s touring band) and, in a dynamic cameo, Mark Knopfler.

Devil Music’s title tune, on the other hand, works off a more cross-generational feel. The music is all Muscle Shoals soul, right down to the blues laced lyrics (“Wolf cried all the way to Memphis, ‘cause his mama turned him, turned him away”). But the music is just as indebted to modern loops and syncopation, which makes this blast of righteous folklore sound anything but vintage.

The groove subsides late into the album for Ride. The attitude is blues (“There is a rock where my pillow used to be”), but the music is ripe with a mix of nocturnal jazz and the combustible soul so prevalent in much of Bramblett’s previous music. His mix of piano and Hammond sets the scene, but the vocals, a gentle and sagely reflection of the music it leads, sells the song.

There are numerous other treats, too, like the dirty swing of Reptile Pilot (which unleashes Bramblett on saxophone with Leavell sitting in on piano), the unsettling soul shuffle of Thing for You (“You’re in and out of trouble but you’re always on mind”) and the rolling, restless Southern R&B of Angel Child (“It’s so quiet, I hear my ‘frigerator running”) that triggers wiry guitar color from another top drawer guest, Derek Trucks.

Wrap all this up and you have a nasty little delicacy of an album from one of the most prolific and uncompromising Southern voices of our age.



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