Doyle Bramhall II isn't just a blues musician anymore. While the genre veils itself in sepia tones, Shades, like 2016's exemplary Rich Man – Bramhall's solo album reboot after a 16-year absence – takes on new life. For decades, blues predetermined the Texan's future, but now it simply informs an entirely new whole.
Make no mistake: The guitar remains the Arc Angel's main form of expression, but Shades sounds seamlessly like an obsessing perfectionist reinventing and redefining their longstanding relationship with album-oriented blues. The split-second hi-hat splash and bass drum oscillation on album opener "Love and Pain," and the gelatinous flange-tremolo guitar part on "The Night" pop as tiny but true details of care and nuance – carved into the song's melodic chassis with X-Acto knives.
Compared to the subtle African accents of Rich Man, Bramhall's debut for Netherlands imprint Provogue renders maximalist ascension: Fuzz becomes as textured as sandpaper on the Greyhounds-assisted "Live Forever," a torrential Hendrix-taming blurs into an elegant string sweep on "London to Tokyo," and Rubber Soul folk and Sgt. Pepper's psych commingle in "Consciousness." Meanwhile, broader genre sweeps include Eric Clapton on the Philly soul-assisted "Everything You Need" and the "Live and Let Die"-tinged brass maelstrom of "Parvanah," which thrusts off the proverbial cliff with each note breaking like a sonic boom.
Beneath the musical matte lies a brooding yarn about solitude and getting older. Gentle keys cradle DBII's weary manifesto about "someone lost, something gained" through age in "Break Apart to Mend." And his looming 50th is juxtaposed on "Live Forever" and a closing cover of Bob Dylan's "Going Going Gone," the former wrapped in triumphant zeal and the latter injected with impotent rage. With Shades, Doyle Bramhall II is at his most open and vulnerable. (Antone's hosts a two-night album release show for Doyle Bramhall II, Oct. 30-31. Emily Gimble opens Tuesday and C.C. Adcock's Lafayette Marquis warms up Wednesday.)
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