Randall Branblett is a storyteller first of all. Since he is a superb musician, music (blues, specifically) is the medium he chooses for his stories. In Devil Music, those stories are about desperation, confusion, and the fight between the dark and the light in the human soul.
This struggle is personified in the title track, “Devil Music,” which is based on the true story of Howlin’ Wolf’s encounter with his mother after he became somewhat famous. She rejected him and his music because she was “sanctified” and he was playing that “Devil music.” “Wolf cried all the way to Memphis,” Randall sings, but he tells her he “can’t stop playing that Devil music.”
All of us have faced that conflict, and this is a song that will haunt you.
Aside from the strong storytelling, this CD is a departure for Bramblett in that it does not sound like his other recordings. He has never been afraid to experiment and this one combines all of his influences in new and surprising ways. There is driving blues, blistering rock, jazz, and funk in this music, but it all comes together in a way that seems consistent and never forced.
Bramblett has some stellar guests on here, too, as Chuck Leavell, Derek Trucks, and Mark Knopfler add their brilliance to the already tight sound of Bramblett’s group, which consists of two of everything: bassists Michael Steele and Michael Rhodes, guitarists Davis Causey and Nick Johnson, drummer/percussionist Seth Hendershot and drummer/producer Gerry Hansen.
Even before we get to “Devil Music,” Bramblett has introduced the tone of desperation and loss with the opening number, “Dead in the Water,” which also introduces a recurring aquatic theme. The moaning slide and the distorted guitars and organ underscore Bramblett’s tortured voice, letting you know you are in for something deep, dark, and brilliant.
That theme of water and despair returns in “Bottom of the Ocean,” despite its funkier guitar accompaniment.
Derek Trucks brings an unforgettable shivery slide to “Angel Child,” which Bramblett sings in a high register that is not common to his recordings. There is an Indian influence and a psychedelic vibe to it. This one is likely to stick in your mind for a while whenever you hear it.
“Pride and Place” returns Bramblett to his Southern rock roots, but still finds him standing in the tall grass, about to blow away. Still, there is hope in this one, as he still has pride.
“Reptile Pilot” is still dealing with confusion and pain but it approaches the subject with humor now and a bouncy pop beat that morphs into a funkier number as it progresses. Chuck Leavell shows up here to add his superb piano and Bramblett gets to show off his tenor sax skills. This one, even though he’s still dealing with that conflict, has the feel of the man rising up from the water and mud and making some progress toward the light. After all, humor is a strong weapon against the dark.
In “Whiskey Headed Woman” it is the traditional bad woman who is causing the pain and confusion. This song really combines stark jazz on piano with a blues vocal in a remarkably effective way. “Strong Love” is the spookiest song about redemption imaginable. You don’t really believe the enemies he says he has tied down in his head are all that tied down. You know, even with strong love, this is going to be a struggle.
That acoustic piano is once again used to great effect on “Ride,” which again combines a feeling of hope and images of despair. “Thing for You” is a thoroughly modern jazz song that sounds so sweet, but it’s for a bad girl. “Missing Link” returns us to a funky groove and that falsetto delivery to wind these up with a song that offers us some tasty temptation that has no intention of setting us free.
Devil Music took this reporter several listens before even attempting to review. This is music for people who like to think, and it delves the dark side of life and emotion with amazing musicianship and skill. Randall Bramblett is a genius. If you like the blues, you should get this album right away, because it explores the territory of the blues as well as anything out there right now.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B012CZ4YTS]