Doyle Bramhall shouldn’t be confused with Doyle Bramhall II, the former lead singer of Arc Angels and successful blues solo artist. Yes, both have played the Texas blues in a style that is true to the genre and at times spine-tingling. But whereas the younger musician opts for a slicker and, at times, psychedelic Hendrix approach, the elder guitarist is as close to Stevie Ray Vaughn as you can get. Having collaborated with the late legend on tunes like “Dirty Pool” and “House Is Rockin’”, Bramhall has all the chops that makes this album a great and enjoyable 40-plus minutes.
The opening riff to the John Lee Hooker track “Dimples” is infectious and has that same head-bobbing quality that hits you in your brain and gut at the same time. And Bramhall’s vocal eerily resembles Stevie Ray Vaughn to a fault. Allowing his supporting cast to shine on bass and harmonica, the tune is a great beginning. “I’d Rather Be (Blind, Crippled & Crazy) tilts towards a soulful Motown Al Greene track but still has some moxey in it. And it fades out rather appropriately, not too terse but not overdoing the welcome.
Despite nearly all the tracks being cover versions, the musician personalizes each track his with a solid delivery and bare-bones production values. “Changes” (not the David Bowie tune) is a dirty and roadhouse blues tune that is one of the highlights within. Whether it’s the bass line or just the overall sixties Sly and Family Stone funk factor, the song never gets stale or goes awry. It’s also the first instance of a guitar solo from Bramhall, who rely more on feel than nimbleness throughout. “I think I’m goin’ out of my mind,” Bramhall sings as it reaches the homestretch. “Life By the Drop” is perhaps the closet “pop” sounding song of the ten tracks presented. Co-written along with Barbara Logan, the track was the 1992 Song of the Year at the Austin Music Awards. Here Bramhall adds nothing much to it, but there is little else to add to this solid pop blues tune.
The centerpiece of Fitchburg Street, which is incidentally the area in West Dallas where Bramhall earned his chops, is “That’s How Strong My Love Is”. It starts off promising, but the waltz-like tempo and arrangement sags a bit near its middle. A guitar solo could work much better than the piano solo one hears, resulting in the tune heading downhill slowly but steadily. Bramhall takes control with the verses again, but there isn’t enough conviction or soul in his voice often enough to drive the point home. “Baby What You Want Me to Do” puts the album back on track with a grittier sound. Penned by Jimmy Reed, the song rolls along quite nicely. “It Ain’t No Use” is another great offering here, mixing all the assets Texas blues has—the fine guitar touches, the accompanying horns and blues back beat nobody can touch. He also takes the time for one of the more heartfelt solos on the album.
On a few occasions Bramhall opts for a back-to-basics blues style that pays tribute to the likes of legends such as Howlin’ Wolf. But by covering the aforementioned on “Maudie”, the tone and style seems to stifle the musician despite a guitar solo that builds with the help of a horn section. The rigidity of the track though takes the wind from his musical sails. “Forty Four” is the polar opposite of the previous track, still sticking to the formula but placing his own spin on the tune with some backing piano and nifty guitar works. The song could be mistake for Canadian blues rock group Big Sugar (or its feeble American equivalent Big Wreck) because it keeps its framework barely in check. And it seems much longer than it is, which is a definite bonus even at five minutes plus!
The sendoff track is “Sugar (Where’d You Get Your Sugar From)”, which seems to come full circle—a blues and toe-tapping guitar heavy track that SRV would be looking down on and smiling about. It’s been nine years since this album and Bramhall’s last record Bird Nest on the Ground. If that’s how long it takes, then the musicianship and high quality here is well worth the wait.
// Notes from the Road
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