Music

Randall Bramblett's "Vibrating Strings" Is About Staying Alive (premiere + interview)

Jedd Beaudoin
Photo: Ian McFarlane / Courtesy of New West Records

Randall Bramblett reissues his acclaimed, quiet masterpiece, The Meantime in 2020. "This was not an easy record technically to make," he recalls. "We were vulnerable." Listen to "Vibrating Strings".

Randall Bramblett's critically acclaimed album The Meantime will be re-issued via New West Records on 31 January 2020 in a deluxe 10th anniversary edition. The deluxe edition finds the material spread across two LPs and features two previously unreleased bonus tracks. Multi-instrumentalist Bramblett has contributed saxophone work to recordings by Steve Winwood, Traffic, Levon Helm, Widespread Panic and many more.

The Meantime spotlights a different side of the musician's character; a quiet, jazz and sometimes gospel-influenced record that features no guitars and accentuates Bramblett's singular voice on piano. Across material such as the opening "Disconnected", "Witness for Love", and "Driving to Montgomery", he proves himself a songwriter with an eye toward history and a feel for the complexities of the human heart. No matter the inspiration for the individual material or the idiom he works in, he never offers less than the fullness of his musical soul, delivering a collection that is life-affirming, imaginative and undeniably pure.

"Vibrating Strings", presented on this edition as a bonus track, captures Bramblett in a moment of deep honesty.

"A different version of that song almost made it on one of my previous albums," he says, speaking from the roadside near his Georgia home. "But it was too pretty. The lyrics are about maybe not having much to say but being glad to be alive. The lyrics were satisfying to me.

"I remember feeling like I had run out of stuff to say at the time and thought, 'I'll write about that.' I was kind of OK with not knowing where to go or what to say. It feels real and I know it's real because that came out of my life. It is better on this side of the dirt."

What was on your mind when you decided to make The Meantime?

I had been making a lot of loud, guitar-driven records. I also had a lot of pretty, melodic, romantic, poetic music that didn't fit on other things I'd done. That's the kind of music I tend to write with Jason Slatton. I wanted to get those songs out. I also wanted to put it out on my own label as a kind of side project.

There's no guitars on this record. It's just a grand piano, upright bass, some drums and some strings on a couple of songs. It's very different from anything I'd done before or since.

I was surprised to learn that some of these songs were written a number of years apart. It all fits together nicely.

"Sacred Harmony" is one of my earliest songs. You can hear the mysticism and experimentation with mind-altering drugs.

My later songs are more grounded in day-to-day themes, less mystical. But that one and "I Will Be For You," a bonus track, are pretty old. A lot of the others were written closer together, a few years apart.

"Disconnected", which opens the album, hit me in a really deep place. I thought, "I know that story."

That's a good song. I was thinking about my son. We were disconnected for a time. He used to crack me up when he sang in the shower.

Then he got older and we went through some tougher times. Sometimes there are conflicts in families.

Do you remember how people reacted to the album when it came out?

They liked it. It's a beautiful-sounding record compared to what I usually do. There's no irony. I did it on my own but there wasn't much publicity around it.

Now, a lot of people say it's one of their favorites. I think it took a while for it to sink in. But I don't sell a lot of records. So I can do what I want and nobody cares.

Did you essentially track the album live?

I'm pretty sure I went back and re-sang the vocals. This was not an easy record, technically, to make. The drums and piano are slow. Everything was naked. We were vulnerable. It was difficult to get everything right at those slow tempos. I'd just focus on the piano and do a scratch vocal. But there's not much overdubs: Strings and backing vocals and maybe some horns on one song. But it is pretty much live.

I think that what you don't play on this record is just as remarkable as what you do play. Do you find it hard to hold back like that?

Because we could hear everything so well, there was no room for mistakes. You can't fix much when you're working in that combo. Playing solo or in a duo is like that too. In a band, you can mess up, be lazy, hang out, listen to the other guys. Nobody cares because there's so much going on. But with this, you had to be right. Any rushing or dragging or wrong notes jump out.

We were shocked at how difficult it was. It was like taking the SAT every day for a few days. But we also had to be relaxed.

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