Doyle Bramhall II
I’m not going to lie – the first time I listened to Rich Man, Doyle Bramhall’s fourth solo record and his first solo release in 15 years following 2001’s remarkable album, Welcome, I was somewhat perplexed. The 13-track collection, all written or co-written by Bramhall except for one Jimi Hendrix cover, was not what I was expecting. Then, I listened again. And again. And one more time. And then the light bulb went on. There is a refreshing depth and maturity to this music representing the tapestry of Bramhall’s life, loss and renewed faith over the past several years including the end of his marriage and the death of his father, musician Doyle Bramhall Sr., to whom Rich Man is dedicated (“In loving memory of Big Doyle. You’re always with me.”). This CD showcases the true catharsis of a fragile human being who also happens to be a musical genius, and Bramhall transports us right along with him on this aural journey. Influenced by Bramhall’s travels through India and Northern Africa, there is a lush and varied symbiosis of sound and color, culminating in a final product of alluring vocals and controlled yet masterful playing, oozing with raw emotion and exotic instrumentation. The extensive list of guest musicians is a testament to Bramhall’s status of respect and admiration in the music industry.
Bramhall wastes no time in cutting right to the chase on the opening song, “Mama Can’t Help You,” with its funky vibe and deep message. “I’m sorry that I looked your way. Didn’t know what I was getting into. And everything I had to lose to get small enough to fit in your life…..I lost myself nothing left to lose…… I got a new life, I got my whole self back. But I ain’t got my watch. Ain’t that cold.” Brilliant. Sitting in is Tedeschi Trucks Band bassist, Tim Lefebvre, and Christina Courtin’s strings accompaniment adds just the right touch. There’s a nasty-good guitar solo from Bramhall as well.
“November,” with its evident regret and loss, is no doubt an homage to his father, who passed in the month of November. The horns are superb, and the backing vocalist trio including Tedeschi Trucks Band backing vocalist Alecia Chakour adds a haunting element, particularly in the closing notes. My favorite track, “The Veil,” has layer upon layer of funkadelic blues/R&B grooves, and Glenn Patscha’s Hammond B3 magic only enhances the effect. The depth of meaning in the lyrics is enough to tear you apart, and I just about fell out of my chair when I heard the biting lines, “Evil, you know I got the fix. Ecclesiastes 7:26,” which is: “And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.” That’s some heavy stuff right there, and the kind of writing that only comes from having lived it. After the first three cuts, Bramhall shifts to the anthemic “My People,” incorporating the Indian sarangi into the mix, followed by his harmonious collaboration, “New Faith,” with Norah Jones (daughter of the late sitarist, Ravi Shankar), which offers a lesson from which everyone can learn, as does “Cries of Ages.” Bramhall returns to a funky sound next with “Keep You Dreamin’ “ and “Hands Up,” the latter which features Kofi Burbridge of Tedeschi Trucks Band on Hammond B3. The title cut, “Rich Man,” follows with seductive strings and features Binky Griptite and Joe Crispiano of The Dap-Kings on electric guitars while Griptite also contributes backing vocals along with Chakour once again. With prominent acoustic guitar and a more ballad-driven sound, “Harmony” is a real stand-out, while “Saharan Crossing” switches back to an African/Middle Eastern vibe enhanced by the oud, a string instrument. “The Samanas” has a dream-like flow with distinct Beatles influence at times. Rounding it out with a stellar, slightly slowed-down version of the Hendrix tune, “Hear My Train a Comin’,” Bramhall finishes it off with his signature guitar prowess.
It’s worth mentioning that Bramhall’s touring band including multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Adam Minkoff, bassist Ted Pecchio and drummer/vocalist Anthony Cole all feature prominently on this, which speaks volumes for Bramhall as an artist and his dedication to his musicians.
Many times artists step outside of the box and explore unchartered territory, some more successfully than others. We as music fans owe it to the artists and to ourselves to venture out right along with them, because sometimes, as in this case, we encounter a gem. It’s hard to put into words, but I feel transported to another time and place when I listen to this record, transfixed by the ebb and flow of creative textures, all which validate Bramhall’s efforts. As he himself stated, “I read a quote from Charles Mingus. He felt like he was not playing his music as much as creating the sound of his life and experiences through the medium of his music. I looked at his life and related to that, and then tried to capture the same thing on the album.” Indeed, that is exactly what he did.