“This is not the first barbeque joint I’ve played, coming from Texas,” said Doyle Bramhall II last night at Willie’s Locally Known. “But it is the best.”
Hopefully, someone at the Southland Drive music joint/barbeque hangout got a recording of that. It was the sort of soundbite that brings in customers. But for all the Lone Star heritage that ran through the guitarist’s veins – along with, in all likelihood, barbeque sauce – Bramhall’s tastefully scalding 95 minute performance steered clear of any expected exercises in Texas roots rock. It was instead a stripped down, internalized and heavily psychedelic variation of the music from his new “Rich Man” album.
So dedicated was Bramhall to the recording that he devoted all but three tunes last night to it, which meant the majority of the audience that packed Willie’s was likely experiencing music they didn’t know.
But from the show-opening strains of “My People,” such unfamiliarity proved a non-issue. Steeped in a Southern soul accent full of swampy solemnity, the tune, as was the case with much of the “Rich Man” material, simmered in a roots sound that took its time to grind out a groove before erupting with a guitar blast that was less in line with Texas blues-rock and more akin to the kind of dense, dark psychedelia fashioned by Traffic at the dawn of the 1970s.
Sure, the Southern slant of Bramhall’s soul sound possessed a warm cast at times, especially during “Keep You Dreamin,’” which became a funk treatise before Bramhall turned on the psychedelia via a solo that sounded like something his former employer, Eric Clapton, designed during his Cream years.
Similarly, covers of Johnny Guitar Watson’s “Lovin’ You” and Bill Withers’ “Better Off Dead” (the latter serving as an unassuming encore) detailed the brighter soul casts of Bramhall’s playing. But the mix of free jazz and Eastern fusion during “Saharan Crossing” and the suite-like construction of “The Samanas,” which began with sparse psychedelic ambience and concluded with pure rockish ensemble might, better reflected the palette of colors, moods and tempos that distinguished not only Bramhall’s remarkable musicianship but the rich, organic drive of music that prided itself on soaring outside of Texas tradition.