Concord Records – 2016
13 tracks; 73 minutes
Doyle Bramhall II has been a very busy man in recent years, collaborating with Clapton, Tedeschi Trucks and Sheryl Crow amongst many artists, even touring as a member of Clapton’s band. All that activity has meant that his own recording career has been on hold and this is his first solo effort in a long time. The wait is now over though with a disc that spans many styles in its generous 73 minutes: blues, rock, jam band and soul influences all appear at times. Doyle plays a wide range of instruments, not just guitar, and is well supported by a large cast of musicians: TTB associates Ted Pecchio and Tim Lefebvre on bass and Kofi Burbridge on organ all put in an appearance and there are strings and African instruments spread across several tracks, even a horn section on one cut. The wide-ranging material is all original apart from a Hendrix cover, Doyle collaborating with KZ Jones on most tracks and with some of the supporting musicians on a few songs. The album follows the theme of personal growth as Doyle travelled widely learning about other musical cultures that influence this recording.
Opener “Mama Can’t Help You” is reasonably straight blues with a chugging rhythm and a rising chorus not untypical of TTB material, Doyle topping it off with an angular solo. “November” adds horns and strings to a soulful number, the joyous chorus offering a great hook as the lyrics reveal how music reopened love for the central character, an early standout track. “The Veil” is a slower, moody track with shimmering guitars and strings again added to the choruses as Doyle describes the evils hidden behind the veil of civility, even quoting Ecclesiastes and “My People” goes a step further with references to other religions and the North Indian sarangi added, an extended track which takes its time to build up pace as Doyle pleads for recognition that all people are the same, releasing a fine solo towards the end. “New Faith” extends the message of needing to make a fresh start and find the good in each other in a largely acoustic setting with Norah Jones’ harmony vocals set alongside Doyle’s gruffer tone. The funky undercurrent of “Keep You Dreamin’” brings us back to a simpler style of music with plenty of wah-wah and bass bubbling under the rhythm but “Hands Up” (apparently written in reaction to the Ferguson racial unrest) plods along with heavy bass and distorted guitar and at close to seven minutes rather outstays its welcome.
Things get back on track with the melodic title track on which the strings underpin Doyle’s vocal as he describes redemption through love. The strings also introduce “Harmony”, a gentle acoustic love song before “Cries Of Ages” returns to a more campaigning style: “rise up as one for redemption” sings Doyle on another song anchored by a strong chorus. “Saharan Crossing” takes us to North Africa with Doyle’s wordless vocal and acoustic guitar, hand percussion and the oud, an Arabic lute, the tune acting as an interlude before the extended “The Samanas” which is the lyrical culmination of Doyle’s personal journey, a samana being a seeker. Doyle’s vocal is framed by percussion and acoustic guitar before his electric guitar cuts through in dramatic fashion, driven by heavy drums including timpani, the final section featuring even heavier guitar. Bringing everything full circle is the Hendrix cover “Hear My Train A’ Comin’” which returns the album to more of a blues conclusion though Doyle’s tough version sounds very different to the song that many of us recall from Rainbow Bridge.
This is an ambitious album which touches many bases. For this reviewer the best tracks were the more melodic ones but there is a lot to appreciate through the 70+ minutes.