Randall Bramblett has embarked in earnest upon a solo career only relatively recently (he contributed a couple of one-off solo releases in the 1970s), devoting the bulk of his time in the music business to session work. Normally, I don’t consider such a career arc promising. After all, how many times do side men and women make successful transitions to solo recording? As much as we might hate to admit it, ego is one the primary factors that drives a musician to creative heights. Session work, by its very nature, necessitates the subjugation of the player’s ego to that of the front man’s. As a result, side man solo outings are almost always pleasurable, congenial, and expertly played, but they lack the sense of focus and structure that the artistic ego can impart to a record.
In Bramblett’s case, such concerns are moot. The Bright Spots is a damn fine record, and if you care a thing for bedrock American music forms - blues, soul, folk, and good, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll—you’ll find much to cherish here.
First things first: Bramblett has serious songwriting chops. His lyrics are so finely tuned, their cadences so natural, that you scarcely notice at first just how thoughtful, how troubled and sometimes haunted, they are. On the driving, horn-fed opener, “Roll”, Bramblett gives forth with a litany of troubles (the oppressive and omnipresent hum of machinery, fair-weather friends, and dark matter are just a few of the more obvious ones), punctuating each such verse with a chorus wherein he proclaims, with no small touch of irony, that “everybody’s got to keep on rolling”. On paper, this is heavy stuff, but the music lifts even the darkest moments here to sublime places. “Detox Bracelet” is about as depressing as the title suggests, but it’s graced by a lovely melody and gentle accompaniment.
Musically, soul is the record’s formal touchstone, and as a result groove reigns supreme. Many of these cuts stretch past the five-minute mark, which I normally take as a sign of trouble. Most bands can’t sustain interest over five minutes. In less than expert hands, groove by itself can become a drag, but the grooves here are enlivened by some fine sonic flourishes—check the sitar on “John the Baptist” or the organ on “Every Saint”. Not least among these is Bramblett’s voice, always gritty, ever tuneful, and one of the album’s great sonic hooks.
To boot, The Bright Spots is remarkably consistent. There’s not a dud track to be found here. Every one of these songs and performances rewards, both on first listen and after multiple plays. Granted, it may not break new ground—Bramblett describes his efforts as a “combination of Dylan and Ray Charles”—but it can’t be called a mere throwback. The Bright Spots is too confident, too accomplished, and quite simply too good to be dismissed or denied.
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// Notes from the Road
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