[20 April 2010]
Mellow music often has a pejorative connotation. People commonly associate the term with lazy afternoons, big pitchers of lemonade, and soft rock. But that’s a false stereotype and as insidious as thinking all country music is twangy, all heavy metal preaches devil worship, and all rap is about hos and bitches. The truth is, at its best, mellow music may be smooth and laid back, but it is also thoughtful and has a groove. Some of the best modern music may be categorized as mellow, a genre broad enough to include everything from James Taylor to the Shins, Barry White to REM, Tori Amos to Billie Holiday. Therefore, when pronouncing Randall Bramblett’s The Meantime as a fine and mellow record, this is meant as a complement.
Bramblett, who has played with legends like the Allman Brothers, Traffic, the Grateful Dead, and has been a member of Sea Level, has earned a reputation as a stellar musician. He’s also released more than a half a dozen solo albums that showcase his talents as a singer and songwriter. Bramblett’s latest features him sitting down at a grand piano and taking things slow and easy. The dozen original tracks come from all periods of his career, but share in common an emphasis on pretty melodies and unhurried tempos.
The lyrics reveal a restless spirit. The compositions may be slow paced, but they aren’t sleepy. They suggest the twilight time when one ponders what to do with the evening, what to do with one’s life, when one has the patience to actually think of “The Grand Scheme of Things”, as he says in the song of that title. Bramblett doesn’t come to easy resolutions or dismiss life’s problems, bad memories, or broken relationships that may have been his fault. Instead, he just realizes his regrets and relishes what life may have in store.
The music complements this state of mind through the silences between the notes. Whether he’s singing about a couple “Driving to Montgomery” to revisit the past or remembering being in church in “Sacred Harmony”, Bramblett stops after every vocal line, every note plunked on the piano, to let some quiet in. He understands the importance of letting the music breathe. He makes this evident even in the titles of his other songs, like “In the Meantime” and “Disconnected”, which reveal the importance of having a pause between thoughts and actions. Being “Disconnected” and having a period where one just waits offers the positive value of letting one miss what’s in the past and look forward to the future.
This sense of slowing time is reinforced by Gerry Hansen’s drums and percussion and Chris Enghauser’s upright bass. They keep the tempo moving without speeding up the pace, a difficult art to master. Amy Carlson’s violin and viola work adds an ornate beauty to the proceedings, and his ably joined by Cora Kuyvenhoven on cello. While Bramblett’s piano takes center stage, the accompanists provide a lovely background that allows the piano to declare the action without having to be loud and showy. Most importantly, though, is the sound of Bramblett’s vocals. He sings in a warm voice that invites the listener to share his emotions, without the need to be melodramatic. This is mellow music, in the best sense, but it’s not ambient background. One is expected to pay attention and simply enjoy.