Nowadays Doyle Bramhall II seems content with being Eric Clapton’s sideman, rather than focus on his own career and talent. Why this is so only he can say. Whether it is due to the regular paycheque that comes with recording and touring with ‘Mr Slow Hand’ remains an unanswered question. Or maybe reformed alcoholics just like to stick together. Like wings of a rehabilitated feather.
Opener “Green Light Girl” explodes with an intensity reminiscent of Hendrix’s “Fire”. Bramhall provides the incendiary riffs, as the rhythm section pounds away with an inflammable fury. “Problem Child” is a driving blues-rock number, guaranteed to get your head moving and your foot stomping. The middle solo section is especially noteworthy, where Doyle trades licks with Craig Ross. Definitely one for the string heads out there. “So You want it to Rain” has a delicate beginning, turns loud, then goes soft again, with some cracking guitar in between the choruses toward the end. “Life” is probably one of those songs you’ll end up skipping after you’ve heard it a couple times, likewise with the next few tracks, where Bramhall just doesn’t seem capable of sustaining the quality of writing. Not so with “Smokestack”, a heavy blues which sees Doyle channelling Hendrix, even throwing in a riff from “Machine Gun” during the combustible solo (one for the trainspotters).
“Last Night” contains a sweltering solo even Jimi would be proud of, but as a song, it’s pretty lacklustre. “Blame” suffers from the same fate. Once again the guitar playing is exemplary, but the writing lets it down. Not so the next track, which to me is the highlight of this album. “Thin Dream” is undoubtedly the best song here, and in my mind the most inspired; one of those mini guitar epics that takes the listener on a largely instrumental odyssey. There is some superb interplay between Bramhall and Benmont Tench, the pianist, in the second half, which is truly wonderful, and makes one glad to be alive.
“Cry”, the final track, teeters on the generic, but as always, it’s Bramhall’s masterly expertise in providing the listener with a blistering guitar work out which makes the experience worthwhile.
Doyle Bramhall II is indeed one of the most under-rated blues-rock guitarists around (John Mayer is another one, but his song writing sucks); it’s just a shame that he isn’t more prolific. Maybe he’s been hanging out with that “Old Sock” for too long to bother about his own thing. Let’s just hope he eventually breaks out on his own again. It’ll be interesting to hear.