One the many performance virtues of the current Randall Bramblett Band – a unit now together long enough that its sense of onstage communication is as natural as it is obvious – is the ability to reassemble numerous traditional resources (blues, R&B and, at times, even jazz) into cheerfully original musical portraits.
Take, for instance, the run of five songs performed in succession from the new Devil Music album that made up the heart of a highly spirited concert last night at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville. Several employed loops and samples as catalysts for rich, organic grooves in much the same way the tunes unfold on the recording. There were roots underpinnings to all of this music, from the roaring swing of Reptile Pilot to the seedy falsetto soul of Angel Child to the heavy Southern funk thread that ran through Devil Music’s title tune. But what resulted were grooves very much of Bramblett’s own making.
Jumping (often literally) between keyboards and saxophone and utilizing conversational, soul scratched singing, Bramblett was less the leader of these back alley jams as a tour guide. The other ensemble members – drummer Seth Hendershot, bassist Michael Steele and especially the ultra tasteful guitarist Nick Johnson – proved resourceful allies in presenting the expansive Devil Music tunes (along with several older works, including a 10 minute neo-psychedelic update of 2001’s God Was in the Water that opened the show) as powerfully soulful performance pieces. Reptile Pilot, in particular, sounded like a full swing orchestra was at play even though last night (as on the album), Bramblett was the only horn player at the helm.
Of course, the true ingenuity behind Bramblett’s songs is the fact they are as arresting thematically and lyrically as they are musically. Devil Music’s title tune, in particular, tapped into the very real rebuff of blues giant Howlin Wolf by his mother (“You can’t change a sanctified mind, but the need of a mother’s love can’t be denied”) while the sexual tension within Reptile Pilot exploded with a sense of scatterbrained ambiguity that mirrored the melody’s boppish celebration (“I’m smart as whip, I’ve got my degree; I’m dumb as a brick, I can’t easily see”).
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Such is the fun that ensues when that ol’ devil music is unleashed.