A man with as much experience as he has ingenuity, Randall Bramblett has been a singer-songwriter, a session musician, and a hired gun for legends such as Gregg Allman and Steve Winwod. Bramblett’s latest release from his more than thirty years in the business, Devil Music, delivers the expected level of virtuosity, and surprises with a deep-fried, novel twist of Southern darkness. “Dead in the Water,” the album’s lead single is equally fulfilled through evocative lyrics, well-timed and managed effects, and instrumental superiority; a narrative of nowhere, the track is populated by dead-end characters and lowly living; fitting, for a track that Bramblett claims is inspired by William S. Burroughs. While immersing itself in the wonderfully weird, infinitely spiraling darkness of whimsy that exemplifies some of Tom Waits’ best work, “Dead in the Water” sees a guest appearance by storied axeman Mark Knopfler.
The title track begins with a West Coast hip-hop rhythm that sounds like a test beat for Nas’ Illmatic before the distorted twang of the guitar comes through to tell the soulful, adamant story of Howlin’ Wolf’s meeting and inevitable conflict with his absent mother. Horns and much implied head-bobbing give this track a sour, gospel kick, the kind you’d find in a decades-old Louisiana bourbon. “Bottom of the Ocean” is a B.B. King-style blues ballad about a pleading love that features some of the best guitar work and a brass chorus that betrays the speaker’s self-damnation.
Bramblett reminds us that he is also an accomplished vocalist by employing a smooth falsetto on “Angel Child” before giving the listener an ominous, yet chorus heavy, look at avoiding compromise with “Pride in Place.” “Reptile Pilot” delivers the beat poetry of Bramblett’s quasi-surrealist lyrics along with a strong jazz emphasis, landing the listener front and center at a Bukowski reading accompanied by a six-piece band at The Blue Whale. The jazz cools off a bit and experiments with some alien sounds on the track “Whiskey Headed Woman” and “Strong Love” supplies the catchiest, repeated guitar riff of the album.
A twinkling piano and an empty scene of isolation and forced loneliness introduce the track “Ride,” a lamentful ballad of packing up and leaving it all behind. The alternating static and clarity define the speaker’s ambivalent attitude towards his lover in “Thing for You” and Bramblett’s signature organ features prominently on the album’s closing track, “Missing Link,” in which the speaker takes the role of a supernatural savior.
Always surprising and impressively inventive, Devil Music is the most original, most authentic album to drop this year and an enjoyable listen for fans of jazz, soul, rock, gospel, blues, and exceptionally gifted songwriters who are re-defining the hallowed traditions of a sacred music.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Dead in the Water
– Devil Music
– Reptile Pilot
The Big Hit
– Dead in the Water
Review by McKinnie Sizemore