Randall Bramblett – Mysteriously Inspired
By Bruce Yandle
Randall Bramblett is like one of those old textile mills that have for so long been a part of the Southern landscape….an old soul who has seemingly seen the ups and downs and lived to tell about it. Like the old precarious hulks of the abandoned mills standing as testimony to thousands of lives lived in and around their shadows, Randall’s music and words always seems to strike perfect balance while maintaining a weathered dignity that is all at once both hopefully wide-eyed and knowingly winking.
In purely aural aspects there is the balance between harmony and dissonance and an audacious breadth of stylistic nods, to everything from soul to blues to rock, to country to hip hop, to pop, to bebop and beyond. With chops to die for, a lesser artist would be content to simply show what he could do as a virtuoso but Bramblett offers you a mere glimmer which is always in service to the song itself. The layered depth of his recordings rewards the listener, even after multiple listenings, with musical nuggets buried deep in the mix—a well-placed gospel vocal accompaniment, a jabbing horn line, or a weaving and bobbing sax improv, and every kind of percussion imaginable- to keep the groove from drying up.
Despite his eclecticism, RB’s “Southernness” shines through, nowhere more so than in his brilliant lyrics which paint the pictures and pluck the heart strings with a familiarity undeniable to anyone who has truly inhabited the landscape. The balance between the tender and the sardonically jaded and world weary puts to shame the pimping “Bro Country” with its booze guzzling, cowboy hat wearing, pick-up truck driving, pandering hucksterism that tries to pass itself off as the Southern voice from 1000 country stations.
Twisted barbed wire, burying your people in the black Tennessee dirt, standing on the porch with your clothes in a grocery bag, looking for salvation, wrestling with temptation and sometimes deciding maybe we are all just tears in the rain…nobody’s problem now.
Describing musical sound is always an odd task. How do you describe how the wind looks? So, we are often left discussing words because they are more concrete and, in this realm, Randall just really laps the field. He at once embraces, and also looks down from 5000 feet up, at the religiosity, the shame and pride, and the defeat that are so ingrained in the Southern psyche, often without us even being aware of it. And the lessons and experiences shared are profound and universal in the way that a Flannery O’Connor story is—while undeniably Southern and quite often Southern grotesque—still relatable for anyone from anywhere.
Randall’s message seems to be ever hopeful while concurrently, naggingly doubtful. Many musicians his age are sitting on their laurels and becoming borderline self-caricatures while Bramblett continues to explore the human condition with a wisdom and warmth that is exceedingly rare. At times in his songs he adopts a persona to tell the story but more often you really feel that it’s Randall himself, sharing his hard won wisdom that is confident enough to realize that, through it all, he still has no idea what’s really going on. He can be achingly sentimental without becoming saccharine or wickedly truthful without being cruel. Always a beautiful balance, that—like the teetering red brick walls of the abandoned factories—seems like it could be lost and everything come tumbling down at any given moment but somehow it seems to stay erect and continue fighting to “steal a minute from the stingy hands of time.”
Why the man is not more widely recognized among the very finest writers and players in popular music is a mystery for the ages, akin to a 5 tool baseball player being unable to crack the starting lineup. However, in a selfish way, it is a great blessing as, on a given night, greatness can be witnessed up close and personal by any erudite music lover, rather than on a jumbo-Tron in a stadium. Through time, our vanities tend to fade and we recognize—hopefully—the simple gifts we are afforded in this life. Randall and his music are certainly such a thing.
Randall Bramblett’s 10th album, “Devil Music” will be released 9/18 on New West Records