Hypothetically, if there were a Board of Governors representing the legacy of Americana music, Randall Bramblett certainly should have a seat at the table on behalf of the Southeast United States. There’s no real need to remind anyone that Bramblett is 72, other than to marvel at his ability at this stage of his five-decade career to put out one discerning and evocative album after another. In the present case it’s Pine Needle Fire and a dozen new offerings with plenty of lessons for the current generation to learn.
Lessons such as embracing eccentricities, for one; even going so far as to credit percussionist Gerry Hansen with “weirdness.” Hansen and the rest of Bramblett’s simmering backing ensemble, in addition to the meditative and bruising set of songs examining life up close and unprotected, certainly are two of the main reasons that this album is a beauty. It’s seductively groovy and sneaky funky, without any tarnish of Dad-rock; Bramblett’s scraped-down vocal treads coursing through Memphis soul and a large side of red beans and rice; like Donald Fagen on Beale at two in the morning.
Bramblett draws on the spirit of Duane Allman, as well, enlisting Allman’s famed Gibson SG for some haunting slide guitar from former Cowboy mate Tommy Talton on “I’ve Got Faith in You.” And deftly shoots up many of the tracks with cycling percussion, spacey counterpoint arrangements, and even a trombone gone AWOL. Yet, everything is accessible and rather calming even as it’s feisty and candidly reflective- distinct with Bramblett’s poetic, unaffected motel room point-of-view.
True, it’s an unrealistic hope for this album to find an audience among the youth eager for the latest from, say, Harry Styles. Though, it’s worth contemplating. Should Styles still be making music when he’s a septuagenarian, he’d be blessed to turn out a record as relevant and downright cool as Pine Needle Fire.