Randall Bramblett begins his 11th studio album, “Juke Joint at the Edge of the World,” with a bald-faced lie: “I ran out of ideas a long time ago,” he sings over the hotwired, loop-loving groove of the opener, “Plan B.” As the tune erupts into bursts of sass and twisted swing, you’ll realize, of course, that this immensely resourceful Southern songsmith is putting us on. Or, at the very least, he is having a field day spinning the yarn of a ne’er-do-well who isn’t the only presence here rocking and rolling at the end of the world.
Bramblett has been making primo records since the 1970s that characterize his sense of literary detail and Southern-fried rhythm. But “Juke Joint at the Edge of the World” continues a turn that began on 2013’s “The Bright Spots” that suggested a shift in temperament. His previous records, especially the quartet of sublime albums that first connected him with the New West label beginning in 2001, were like Southern novels full of keen human intuition wrapped in layers of soul, blues and jazz overtones that operated from a regal rock ’n’ roll perspective. It was a sweet blend.
All of that is evident on “Juke Joint at the Edge of the World.” But as was the case with “The Bright Spots” and 2015’s “Devil Music,” the mood and the groove seem collectively looser. After “Plan B” and its fearless sense of swing settle down, the soul-savvy organ riff of “Pot Hole on Main Street” tips the album into a ravine of more cautionary cool, where a central seediness is no match for a clever narrative outbreak (“Pot hole on Main Street, messin’ with my ride; I can’t get no asphalt, no matter how hard I try”). On a similarly earthy bend, but possessing a more worldly and summery theme, is “Garbage Man,” where a swampy vamp of brass, distorted Rhodes-style piano and the wonderfully genuine Southern scratch of Bramblett’s singing nicely color the sage metaphors of your friendly neighborhood sanitation worker (“What you doin’ with all that junk? You know I clean up your mess and take it to the county dump”).
“I Just Don’t Have the Time” furthers the playful spirit with humid guitar momentum, but it doesn’t shy away when it comes to cutting losses and ties to self-involved souls (“All I want to do is get through my five stages of grief from being around you”).
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The groove seldom settles, save for the sobering album-closer, “Do You Want to Be Free,” a meditation on salvation that lets its final line (“The dirty streets are shining”) shoot through as a blast of Southern sunlight. What a quiet but glorious parting shot to another Bramblett epic.