Squarely as a citizen of the new South, Randall Bramblett has encouraged in his music a progressive intent that, combined with his ever-present Georgia roots, often has made for some very gratifying results. His latest Devil Music utilizes comrades from his forty-year career like David Causey and Chuck Leavell- both of whom were mates of Bramblett’s in the ‘70s fusion outfit Sea Level- and guitar gunslingers Mark Knopfler (on the title track) and Derek Trucks. The result is a gritty and grinding album planted on the riverbank of the blues, yet just as ready to pull up the stakes for even lower ground.
Aided by the conspicuous hand of producer Chuck Ainlay (Mark Knopfler), Devil Music shows off a modern clarity while accentuating Bramblett’s aged whisky-sour curdle. It’s a funky, chunky set, particularly on cuts like “Bottom of the Ocean” and “Angel Child,” (with Trucks on the latter), that has Bramblett sounding like musical godfather to Warren Haynes and Widespread Panic. On keys or sax, he is more a finishing touch than a focal point, but it’s the shading of both that keeps the 11 songs embedded in the richly black earth of Memphis and New Orleans.
His cadences conjure up Howlin’ Wolf, his lyrics peppered by all-nighters, and most all the signposts are pointing down. Anchored by the malleable drumming of Gerry Hansen, the grooves are fat and wide, swinging on “Reptile Pilot,” hanging in the backseat on “Ride,” or pushing and pulling on closer “Missing Link.” Ainlay’s subtle sonic nuances of cycling percussion or filtered vocals only darken Bramblett’s already dusky street corners.
Devil Music is a winning return for Randall Bramblett. Playing well to the veteran’s strengths, it has found a nexus between traditional and contemporary that recaps both his influence and his influences. The devil may be on his shoulder, but for this record, he’s a worthy muse.