Doyle Bramhall II Record Review
Rich Man (Concord)
Space, the final frontier. Cruise luxurious lead-off "Mama Can't Help You," wherein the ambience inside its sound design – the space between sounds – beats louder than any cymbal ride or guitar squeal. That ghost beat between beats, split-second piston up and down the hi-hat, the coiled steel of a strummed string; every detail of sound, not so much layered as sequential, holds its own on Rich Man. The opener's depth of bass and percussion alone hangs suspended in air, hovering over some expanse like Doyle Bramhall II stepped off that proverbial life cliff and walked on clouds. Cue up "November" next knowing it's a prayer, a supplication, to his late, great father, and you won't get through without choking up: "Oh, I wish I could go back again/ For a moment ease this unforgiving pain." Bramhall's accents on the line – the up-note on "pain" – ground the singing as corporeal given his otherworldly blues-soul vocal entwining with a plume of organ and flange of guitar. A Stax-like track so laid-back it approximates some sort of innate animal unselfconsciousness, "The Veil" succeeds the stinging ache of "November" by casting the same sort of spell with biblical inevitability, its louder insistence informing the title anagram ("evil, better look away"). West African accents to near-dirge "My People" and tropical guitar precipitation at the start of "Keep You Dreamin'" waft West Indies, their African-American grooves timeless. One could snip off a couple of tracks (Norah Jones-assisted ballad "New Faith" and even "Hands Up" despite its magma solo), but a pair of late-album triptychs are stilling. The title track and "Harmony" ripple firm but gentle, the former sweetened by a chamber pluck and the latter's stringed classicism giving way to Bramhall's equivalent of "Wild Horses," an acoustic caress genuine with emotion. Even so, the tensile bloom of "Cries of the Ages" holds all the mystery. A second trilogy, beginning with the instrumental "Saharan Crossing," makes obvious Doyle Bramhall II's ascension into a Robert Plant-like transcendence of styles, genres, and cultures, immediately proved by 10 Lawrence of Arabia minutes on "The Samanas." Taming Hendrix's "Hear My Train A Comin'" closes. Blues album of 2016.