Randall Bramblett: Thin Places

Hank Kalet

Randall Bramblett

Thin Places

Label: New West
US Release Date: 2004-02-24
UK Release Date: 2004-03-29

The so-called singer-songwriter genre can be rather limiting, an exercise in navel-gazing and narcissism that too often is dull and painful to listen to.

Born of the exhaustion and malaise that set in at the end of the '60s, when artists seemed to tire of public statements and the more overtly political attitudes of rock and roll, the singer-songwriter movement opted for a quieter approach, a more personal and inward-looking sensibility.

"The time was ripe for reactionary expressions of frustration, confusion, irony, quiet little confidences, and personal declarations of independence," Janet Maslin wrote in her essay on the genre for the 1980 edition of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll.

The hallmark of the music, she wrote, was "a self-absorption complete enough to counterbalance the preceding era's utopian jive," a solipsism so complete that its "initial preoccupation with forthrightness and simplicity quickly gave way to the cult of the complex, sly and wholly self-absorbed individual."

That's not to say that the genre failed to produce anything of note. On the contrary, singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Randy Newman -- among many others -- did produce some remarkable and expressive work.

The Georgia-born Randall Bramblett is in that vein, a singer-songwriter who avoids the narcissism and solipsism of many of his forebears by writing tightly poetic tunes that ride along the contours of rock, R&B, and jazz. Bramblett has a long history in the music business, having worked with and written for an array of Southern bands and musicians. He was a member of Sea Level, a Southern rock/jazz fusion band, and has worked with the Allman Brothers, Gov't Mule, Widespread Panic and others, and was a touring member of the reunited Traffic several years ago.

Thin Places, his fifth solo album, is thick with poetic images, an album of desolation and disconnection with its feet firmly planted in rock 'n' roll -- which, ultimately, is what separates him from the general run of singer-songwriters.

"It ain't what you thought but look at what you've found," he sings on "Nobody's Problem", a song that lingers in some lost past, navigating the difficult passage from then to now, a song thick with pain and suffused with a difficult freedom born of survival.

"When the sun comes up we'll still be here", he sings in his gravelly, timeworn voice. "When we've had enough we'll still be here / When the flame is blown we'll still be here / When it all comes home we'll still be here", pressing on the listener a sense not so much of endurance or of hope but of continuance.

On "Black Coat", he sings of being broken and beaten down -- "Drape your wings around me now / Before the sun goes down again / In the end I'm broken down / Underneath the weight of heaven" -- a sentiment echoed in the chilling "Chet Baker": "Do you walk out of your life sometimes / Do you run out to the bareboned streets and hide / Do you get inside your car and drive drive drive."

Bramblett's desolation is always tempered by an outward glance, by a sense that he is part of a larger world and, as such, is connected to something larger than himself. In this way, he reminds me most of Jackson Browne -- lyrically, "Gotta Stop Somewhere", with its realization that you have to give to get, reminds me of Browne at his finest.

Musically, however, Bramblett is much more of a rocker, with a heavy jazz influence. His piano and organ lead the way on this disc, crafting a burning, swirling foundation on which this disc builds its emotional urgency. The guitars -- Davis Causey, Kenny Greenberg, and Jason Slatton -- jump from the speakers and the rhythm section -- Shawn Pelton on drums and percussion and Michael Rhodes (who also produces) on bass -- keep the songs moving, especially on the syncopated blues of "Gotta Stop Somewhere" and "Black Coat".

While mid-tempo rockers take up most of the disc, there is a country flavor to some of the songs, such as "Confident Thieves", with Bramblett's harmonium being backed by Slatton on acoustic guitar and Rhodes on the upright bass.

Thin Places is a remarkable, vital achievement, the work of a mature songwriter exploring the world around him with an honesty and integrity that seem missing in a time of callowness and shallow, market-driven pop.

It deserves the broadest possible audience.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.