Doyle Bramhall II: Shades Review

For a musician like Doyle Bramhall II, the music criticism community approaches a new album release with an understanding that, more likely than not, it’s going to be good. As someone who grew up around the Vaughan brothers in Texas (his father drummed for The Chessmen with Jimmie Vaughan while still in high school and went on to play with Stevie Ray, as well), Bramhall’s future in music seemed predetermined. His early touring with Jimmie Vaughan and later hand-selection by artists like Eric Clapton and Roger Waters to join them on the road and in the studio reinforced the opinion that Bramhall not only had the early exposure to talented musicians from which many young artists benefit—he also had talent of his own to back it up. Such is the background with which those familiar with Bramhall’s career trajectory approached his latest solo album Shades, released earlier this month as his first with Mascot Label Group and solo return after 2016’s Rich Man (which was also his first solo record in 15 years). Luckily, this new album doesn’t disappoint.

The 12-track Shades starts with “Love and Pain,” a four-minute song that Bramhall introduced in early September that was written in response to the October 2017 mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas. Though the subject matter is inherently tied to politics, Bramhall told Blues Rock Review during a recent interview that his goal for the song was to engage with the topic using a wider humanity-at-large lens, a theme that follows for the remainder of the album. As “Love and Pain” confronts one high-stakes debate, “Break Apart to Mend” stands in stark contrast as perhaps the album’s most personal song. Over a delicate piano melody, Bramhall sings of childhood ease gone by and grapples with identity and healing in adulthood, returning throughout the song to the refrain, “Don’t we break apart just to mend?” It’s an honest—if heartbreaking—story of awareness and personal struggle, an illuminating glimpse into the heart and mind of a musician who has for decades appeared on too many albums to name and is coming into his voice as a solo artist.

Even so, the songs on which Bramhall introduces guests produce some of the album’s most enjoyable moments. Shades features four guest spots, each of which perform on a song: Eric Clapton swaps licks with Bramhall in “Everything You Need,” Norah Jones harmonizes over a blend of piano and guitar in “Searching for Love,” Greyhounds deliver an amplified edge in “Live Forever” and the entire Tedeschi Trucks Band joins Bramhall to cover Bob Dylan’s 1970s-era “Going Going Gone.” It’s on these songs that Bramhall sounds most in his element, playing well with his friends and with those who inspire and challenge his music. His purely solo tracks are where we hear the most growth from him as an artist, but his collaborative works are where he thrives, eager to push his technical skill and artistic expression to new depths with the support of those he trusts.

The Review: 8/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Love and Pain
– Everything You Need
– Live Forever
– Break Apart to Mend

The Big Hit

– Everything You Need

Review by Meghan Roos

Buy the album: Amazon | Amazon UK

One thought on “Doyle Bramhall II: Shades Review

  • Horrible album. I don’t know where the positive reviews come from: obviously from people who never heard his first album: Doyle Bramhall ii. This album is like McCartney’s “silly little love Song”, and Clapton’s “ I hate playing guitar “ periods. About 4 songs are worth downloading


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