Doyle Bramhall II

Provogue, 2018

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Owing to his session and sideman work for bigger names, Texas guitarist Doyle Bramhall II doesn’t release his own music very often. Based on Shades, this is a damn shame.

A hybrid of Southern blues and soul, Shades never strays too far from its roots but neither does it cop from other artists, instead sticking to an effortlessly chilled lane of its own. Bramhall not only wrote most of the album but sings, plays guitar, drums, bass, keyboards, produces, and arranges it, and finds time to invite Eric Clapton, Tedeschi Trucks Band and Norah Jones to guest on a couple of songs.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Labors of love sometimes can feel fussy. Not here. There’s a joy to the gospel background vocals of “Hammer Ring,” the R&B flavors and wonky guitar solo tandem of “Love And Pain” and the silky nightclub vibe of “Everything You Need.” The missed opportunity of that latter song is Clapton’s appearance; yes, Bramhall has been part of Clapton’s band for 18 years and so he was obligated to appear here, and the guitar workout between the two is appreciated, but someone like Leon Bridges – another artist who looks back in order to push forward – would have elevated the song. It’s still a great piece of music, though.

The album is akin to 2016’s Rich Man, emphasizing singing and vibe over guitar heroics, so those who know of Bramhall from his early-2000s axe-slinging may be a bit disappointed. But that was 17 years ago, and rather than tread the blues rock ground of many a middle-aged white dude, Bramhall opts for soul and Southern-fried countenance here. It allows him room to shrug off any expectations and make songs like “Parvanah” and the very good “Like Forever,” tunes that are tough to classify and all the better for it.

“The Night” is as close to a Bridges tune as the man himself has achieved so far, while “Break Apart To Mend” is an understated, classy ballad. “Consciousness” and “She’ll Come Around” are among the few dull tracks here, but “Parvanah” makes up for it. This cut brings in an Eastern/Indian melody that snakes around the blues, creating a tension and release not often heard in guitar rock. And the closing “Going Going Gone,” a Dylan cover recorded here with Tedeschi Trucks Band, starts slowly but eventually blossoms into a confident guitar solo that proves Bramhall deserves far more credit from the general public than he gets.

Shades is exactly that, moving from palettes of gray to color and back, in service of strong, laidback, and compelling songs. It’s a rewarding and layered listen well worth your time.

Rating: B

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