Muscle Shoals sound meets Oasis-like pop hooks and the occasional burst of funk horns in an irresistible blend from one of music's great unknowns.
Despite the 30-some years of recording experience under his belt, Randall Bramblett is still an unknown. Sure, this is understandable when one does things like play on various unremarkable Steve Winwood recordings, but Now it's Tomorrow is Bramblett's seventh solo record and fourth for New West. Why is this man not raking in the green, Grammys, and groupies? He's like the white Prince, dammit.
Along with artists like Tift Merritt, My Morning Jacket, and Jackie Greene, Randall Bramblett seems to be ushering in a new era of Southern rock meets blue-eyed soul. Perhaps "ushering in" isn't the correct phrase where Bramblett is concerned; after all, he has been recording since the mid-1970s. But if Now It's Tomorrow can't put him on the map, nothing will.
On Now It's Tomorrow Bramblett is backed by, appropriately, The Randall Bramblett Band, while he takes the lead with vocals, keys, and soulful saxophone. Despite his association with Widespread Panic, he thankfully avoids descending into hippie jam band noodling, instead favoring the artfully placed tight solo to accompany his raspy vocals. Band members Davis Causey and Mike Hines trade spacey lead guitar riffs while Bramblett accompanies with acoustic rhythm guitar.
Though the fast-paced numbers are the strongest tracks of the album, Bramblett sure can write a good ballad. No surprise here, considering he's written for some of the best in the business like Bonnie Raitt and Delbert McClinton, not to mention former teen idol Rick(y) Nelson. The record's closing track, "Where a Life Goes", is such a ballad, composed of questions posed to someone who has recently passed away: "What's it like where you are / Are you young and beautiful again...Do you ever think of us / back here in the world of tears and dust"? It isn't the only song about death on this record, but it just might be the saddest.
The general theme underlying Now it's Tomorrow is mortality and the fragility of the human condition. This is certainly inspired by the death of Bramblett's tour manager and dear friend Stuart Collins. "You Better Move" proclaims "You better get right with somebody while there's still time," and "Let's Go" states "Let's go before it's too late / I'm losing my grip a little more each day". The lyrics to the vast majority of the record's song may be heartrending, but the arrangements are so rocking that it's easy to forget how sad some of these songs really are. "Some Mean God" is one of those songs. "Your house is still, the lights are low / I can't believe you're really gone / And I know some things never change / The way our love goes up in flames / And I don't know which lie is true / But I can't turn away from you".
Thankfully the fastpaced nature of most of this album's songs keep it from ever becoming maudlin or overly sentimental. "Mess About It" is simply a great rock & roll song, complete with face-melting guitar solos courtesy of Davis Causey and Bramblett's occasional foray into falsetto. Funk grooves run rampant through the record, most prominently on "Used to Rule the World", which musically is about as close to James Brown as a middle aged white guy can get decades after soul's golden age (pretty close, apparently, thanks to saxophone grooves).
With the release of Now it's Tomorrow and a subsequent tour, if Randall Bramblett isn't on your radar by the end of autumn, consider it a personal failure. Because, in this economy, there aren't many better ways to spend an extra ten bucks than by downloading this album.