Doyle Bramhall II – Rich Man (2016)

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feature photo: Danny Clinch

Doyle Bramhall II has been around greatness all his life. His father Doyle Bramhall was a noted singer-songwriter and drummer who was involved musically with the Vaughan brothers since high school, later penning or co-penning several songs for Stevie Ray. SRV took the younger Doyle under his wing and taught the burgeoning guitarist a lick or two. Bramhall later joined forces with Charlie Sexton and Vaughan’s Double Trouble rhythm section to form the Arcangels right after Stevie Ray Vaughan’s death, a supergroup that had real potential to pick up where the dead legend left off, but that proved to be too combustible to hold together. Sexton and Bramhall both pursued solo careers without much success and subsequently both settled into the touring bands of living legends; Sexton with Dylan and Bramhall with Clapton.

That’s not to say that Bramhall is anything less than a complete package as a composer, guitarist, producer and singer; he’s shown enough on his occasional solo records to convince otherwise. This is about one of those rare occasions, because Bramhall is poised to release his first album since 2001.

Rich Man — out September 30 (Concord Music Group) — reveals that the intervening fifteen years hadn’t fundamentally changed much about Bramhall, not even after major collaborations with Clapton, The Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sheryl Crow, Elton John and a host of some of biggest names in rock, soul, blues and country. This is without a doubt the same guy who made Jellycream and Welcome during the late Clinton years, and one could see that as a lack of progression or musical growth. But it shouldn’t be viewed that way, because Rich Man is actually a consolidation of his strengths as a straight-up rocker, Texas bluesman and modern soul crooner, self-produced in the psychedelic soul style of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach.

Certainly, the advance single “Mama Can’t Help You” attests to that, a funky put-down tune that’s a throwback to a time when a tight rhythm section, an urgent guitar solo and a small string section could happily co-exist. His retro inclinations becomes more obvious with “Keep You Dreamin’,” which seems like a lost Temptations track circa Puzzle People, and the swampy, muddy fog of “Hand Up” is sliced through like a machete by Bramhall’s lethal blues axe. Bramhall’s paean to his late father “November” sports both strings and horns, and his vast producing experience comes into play as he’s able to weave the two currents together with a veteran savvy.

He does stretch out of his normal zones a bit for “My People,” which begins like the stirrings of an Indian raga, but his naturally soulful vocal begins to reverberate through the speakers and the blues comes bleeding through. “Saharan Crossing” is a short excursion into North African folk music, complete with Yuval Ron’s oud and Bramhall’s wordless chants. Somehow, it fits in with the overall vibe of the record.

The acoustically minded “New Faith” is a melody that brings the emotional heft but not the syrup, and having Norah Jones assist on harmony vocals is just enough to put it over the top. “The Samanas” is a ballad that turns into a drawn-out, multi-sectioned jam, maybe his most ambitious track yet. That’s immediately followed by an acknowledgment of his direct connection to SRV, a smoldering account of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hear My Train A Comin’.”

Some twenty-five years ago when he helped to make that first Arcangels record, it seemed Doyle Bramhall II could go as far as his ample talents could take him. He never became a household name even as he became the guy household names called upon to make their own music better, and even Rich Man may not finally break him into that status. But this time, that’s on the public; he did his part.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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