Music News & Reviews

Randall Bramblett had sound reasons to shake things up on latest album

Randall Bramblett returns to Lexington for a concert on Sunday at Natasha's Bistro & Bar.
Randall Bramblett returns to Lexington for a concert on Sunday at Natasha's Bistro & Bar.

Randall Bramblett Band

8 p.m. July 14 at Natasha's Bistro & Bar, 112 Esplanade. $20. (859) 259-2754.

For more than three decades, Randall Bramblett has fashioned stories of great emotive detail and rich Southern imagery into songs infused with generous but unforced accents of R&B, jazz and almost sagely rock and soul.

But he was looking for a shake-up on his new album, The Bright Spots, which brings Bramblett back to Lexington for a Sunday concert at Natasha's. No, he wasn't looking to change his musical game entirely. The veteran Georgia songsmith simply wanted to keep from repeating himself on record.

The themes and narratives of his songs are continually new. But Bramblett was determined the grooves and orchestrations of his newest writings needed to sound equally fresh.

"I didn't want anything that sounded like what I've done before," he said. "Plus, I had these songs that were a little more bluesy sounding. But I certainly didn't want to make a straight-ahead blues record.

"I don't go into a recording with a specific idea of how I want my songs to sound. On The Meantime (Bramblett's piano-dominated 2010 album), I did. I went in with an idea of wanting that to be a really quiet acoustic piano record. But I wanted this one to go where it needed to go and let the whole thing evolve."

Two songs, in particular, are striking examples of those making up The Bright Spots.

Detox Bracelet tells the story of a recovering alcoholic torn between the possibilities of a new life and the fleeting lure of the old one. It is a story filled with detractors, revelers and enablers, and topped with elegant band orchestration that gives the song a beautifully wistful quality.

"I was just thinking about a person who is in treatment, who feels horrible, whose life is falling apart," Bramblett said. "He hears a train go by and thinks that maybe all his fun and freedom is gone, too. He's on the edge of wanting to go back out but hasn't realized there is another life for him if he can just pick up the tools he has been given. It's a yearning and grieving for your old life and your old fantasy, really. It's a balancing on the edge of disaster. That knife edge attracted me."

The other is All Is Well, a leaner, darker, noir-style meditation.

"The overall feeling there is just acceptance," he said. "Everything is the way it's supposed to be right now. So it comes across with a blues feeling, too. But there is always that question mark in that kind of feeling for me. I don't like to write these straight-ahead message songs. The singer in this one has to give up all his ideas about what is good and bad within the things that are happening to him. He has to give up all his judgments, his prophecies and predictions. It's a song about accepting everything the way that it is."

It's a stance that could be viewed as somewhat reflective of Bramblett's career. Artists such as Steve Winwood and Bonnie Raitt have long championed his music. But Bramblett's reputation, especially outside the South, continues to establish itself in slow, incremental steps.

"It's still a little bit frustrating that we can't get heard in a broader arena," he said. "You deal with radio and the reality of the record business. You deal with the reality of our age group and getting people to come out to hear you. So we're doing as good as we can. All is well."

The week that was

David Byrne and St. Vincent at the Kentucky Center for the Arts in Louisville: At first glimpse, the stage resembled a concert aftermath. Strewn about the floor were nearly a dozen musical instruments, the majority of them brass. It was as if the show had been interrupted suddenly with the players making a hasty exit.

Then, en masse, the performers entered, led by elder pop journeyman David Byrne and new generation song stylist Annie Clark (St. Vincent). The resulting music de-emphasized the rhythm section in favor of an eight-member horn section that was equal parts carnival troupe, marching band and jazz-intensive rock orchestra.

At 60, Byrne was the undeniable focal point even though he worked diligently to be a team player. When Clark was in the spotlight, he stood to the side and became part of the light choreography that kept the horn section in almost constant motion.

The quirky pop-dance structure of Who and the elegiac Outside of Space and Time, both from the 2012 collaborative Byrne and Clark album Love This Giant, played well to the still involving dynamics within Byrne's singing. But so did less likely solo career picks, such as Lazy, a decade-old work with the electronica group X-Press 2.

Clark's material was often just as intriguing even though the mighty brass orchestration tended to stifle her vocals at times. The best of her Love This Giant offerings was Lightning, in which her light, animated singing nicely colored the neo-soul bursts of the brass. But the large ensemble arrangements greatly enhanced such solo St. Vincent works as The Party, to which Lexington native Kelly Pratt added striking harmonies on flugelhorn.

The latter was probably the closest thing the horn section offered as a solo. Instead, the team of eight worked with remarkable singularity, fortifying whatever bounce, groove or reflection the Love This Giant songs called for while turning a quartet of Talking Heads-era Byrne gems into true party pieces. The highlight of that lot was the show-closing Road to Nowhere, in which Clark joined the horn players in a snake line that weaved around a stationary Byrne. It was a suitably festive end to this inventive, cross-generational pop party.