Gifted blues guitarist discovers wisdom on long awaited fourth studio outing
Doyle Bramhall II’s 2001 album Welcome was a superb and inspired showcase for the guitarist’s outstanding talents, whose ‘70s friendly blues-rock tunes were as delicious as they were down to earth. However anyone expecting an immediate follow up would be sorely disappointed, as Bramhall was recruited by Eric Clapton, becoming his trusty sideman and musical confidant for at least the next decade and a half.
Now, almost 15 years later, whether due to creative laziness, or just a busy touring schedule, Bramhall has finally gotten around to releasing his next solo project, Rich Man, an album which finds the guitarist less focused on six string histrionics and more on subtlety and texture. It is also arguably his most adventurous and varied to date, something that has the potential to either delight or frustrate his fans in equal measure.
Things get off to a good start with the funky “Mama Can’t Help You (Believe It),” where one can hear the influence of The Allman Brothers and is a slick reversion to his younger days, as is “November,” another smooth R&B number dedicated to his late father (who passed away in 2011), although it could just as easily be about an ex-lover. “The Veil” has one of Bramhall’s finest vocal deliveries ever, along with a guitar solo that would make Vernon Reid smile.
He takes a detour across India via the Mississippi Delta on “My People,” before a reflective “New Faith,” featuring Norah Jones, has Bramhall pondering over why we all just can’t get along. “Keep You Dreamin’” could be mid-70’s era Rolling Stones a la “Fingerprint File,” with its funky wah wah guitar, horny keyboards and oh so sexy groove, and speaking of grooves, the swampy bluesy “Hands Up” is full of dirty riffs straight from the muddy banks of the Mississippi river, and probably about the closest he comes to anything on Welcome.
The title track may not hit the listener at first, but as the song unfolds its qualities reveal themselves slowly, thanks to the diversity of semi-exotic instrumentation played throughout. “Harmony” is another one of those emotive ballads Bramhall is so fond of (written for his new girlfriend Renée Zellweger?), before rocking out on “Cries Of Angels.” He follows in Page and Plant’s footsteps on “Saharan Crossing,” an instrumental tinged with more Moroccan spice than all of Istanbul’s bazaars put together. The epic “Samanas” rises and falls in multi-part fashion yet never quite lives up to its true potential, in spite of some impressive guitar soloing along the way.
The real highlight is Bramhall’s memorable cover of Hendrix’s “Hear My Train A Comin,” which closes the album, throughout which the guitarist is completely in his natural element, not only channelling Jimi but also his own impressive talents in the process.
Rich Man is an ambitious expansive statement that has just enough grit and muscle to please even the fussiest of blues-rock aficionados. Could it have benefited from some editing? Perhaps. However since this was a long time coming, any new release by Bramhall is surely better than nothing. And if Rich Man is anything to go by, let us hope that we don’t have to wait quite so long between this and his next offering.