Randall Bramblett – The Bright Spots (2013)

It would be easy enough to tag this as Southern rock, or as blues, or even — at times — as gospel, were Randall Bramblett’s The Bright Spots not so consistently all of those things, and something more.

Having served a lengthy apprenticeship with Steve Winwood, and recently had his tune “Used to Rule the World” featured on Bonnie Raitt’s Grammy-winning triumph Slipstream, Bramblett certainly arrives at this — his ninth solo album, due on May 14 from New West Records — with his papers in order. You’ll hear whispers of Bramblett’s time with Gregg Allman, Levon Helm, Gov’t Mule and Widespread Panic, too.

But there’s something else going on here, too — something that has to do with Ray Charles and Steve Forbert and Howlin’ Wolf and Stax Records, something that feels more deeply Southern in the sense that it settles into that crossroads moment when genres comingle into a spicy gumbo of emotion. Something that is, ultimately, Bramblett’s alone.

Like the field holler that came before and the back-pew gospel shout, like the wiry Delta blues and hard-bitten front-porch folk tale, The Bright Spots thrums with no small amount of pain, but yet it’s veined with a kind of black-humored joy, too. Bramblett, in his own way, renounces the blues in order to become sanctified — rising above the disappointments, the setbacks and the heartache to — if nothing else — appreciate the winking irony at play in these endless challenges.

Recording principally at home in Athens, Ga., Bramblett also put down five cuts in Nashville with drummer/producer Gerry Hansen — crafting songs that connect with the past (the angular album-opening “Roll,” the gritty “Whatever That Is”) and the future (as in the looped cadences on “John the Baptist” and “You Bring Me Down”), with our innate sense of hopefulness (the gospel-inflected “Shine,” the deeply resonant “All Is Well”) and our desire to run away from it all (the fonky “‘Til the Party’s All Gone,” the love-struck “Rumbling Bridge”). The Bright Spots is just as apt to whisper a quiet entreaty (“Every Saint,” “Detox Bracelet”) as it is to ramp up into a sizzling soul aside (“Whatever That Is,” “Trying to Steal a Minute”).

In this way, The Bright Spots plants its flag on a broadly appealing vista, surveying so many differing styles and feels that it can only be described as uniquely Southern — but, more particularly, uniquely Randall Bramblett’s. Coming from the heart, it connects in an elemental, deeply personal way.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.

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