Thin Places – Randall Bramblett
New West Records 6050
Randall Bramblett has spent two decades as rock and roll's most reliable
"fifth member." So it makes sense that the multi-instrumentalist opted to
play no less than five instruments on his latest solo CD.
Having clocked time with Traffic, Widespread Panic, Gregg Allman, and Robbie
Robertson, Bramblett knows a thing or two about composing a solid, old
fashion rock and roll number. Taking successful stabs at the Hammond organ,
saxophone, piano, and harmonica, as well as serving as his disc's lead
vocalist, Bramblett proves his musical mite a few songs into his second New
West Records release. But despite Bramblett's 20-year tenure in and around
the improvisational music community, Thin Places doesn't play out
like a jamband release. Instead, Bramblett's newest disc is methodic,
restrained rock and roll, albeit with a few jazzy touches here and there.
A collection of 11 relatively short cuts, Thin Places does sound a
bit slim during its 40-minute lifespan. But though Bramblett decides to trim
the jams, he still creates a warm, Southern album which complements his deep
voice and spirited organ romps. Organizing a talented team of musicians,
including regular collaborators Jason Slatton, Kenny Greenberg, Davis
Causey, and Shawn Pelton, Bramblett also packs in subtle instrumental
delicacies, as evidenced by Pelton's quirky percussion on the seemingly
poppy "Playing Card." Opting to include bassist Michael Rhodes, another
noted session man, Bramblett reaffirms his record's studio feel, taking
advantage of the controlled environment's polish. Perhaps most akin to
Bramblett's work with Robertson, Thin Places is somewhat tame,
folk-inspired rock and roll, indebted to classic rock's professional mix of
structure and improvisation.
While reining in his tendencies to meander musically, Bramblett allows his
lyrics to address life in motion. Primarily written by Bramblett and Slaton,
Thin Places traces several wandering muses, searching through travel
or introspection. The pair of tracks "Are You Satisfied" and "Chet Baker"
are particularly poignant, reflecting opposite emotional ranges. "Are You
Satisfied" is set against a dark, Morphine-style series of horns, while
"Chet Baker" is light, breezy, and euphoric. But both ponder life's personal
Opening with "Nobody's Problem," a grainy, Southern rocker that makes use of
Slatton's aggressive acoustic guitar, Bramblett sets a mature tone for his
first record in three years. Like Bruce Hornsby, Bramblett takes pop songs
and interjects them with more worldly elements, allowing his music to remain
mellow while still being adventurous.
Like Little Feat, Bramblett glues his funk and jazz influences together into
a neat, but expandable package. The sublime jazz breakdown at the core of
"'Comin Round Soon" recalls the Grateful Dead's "Eyes of the World" with its
smooth horn solos and fusion guitar. "Black Cat," an excellent mix of
well-crafted and carefully reined-in organ romps, is Thin Places’
best number, complete with a rough, funky, post-Traffic edge. Nodding to Bob
Dylan-style harmonica solos, "I Don't Care" is an emotionally striking,
though sober, way to close Bramblett's studio set.
Randall Bramblett has jammed with some of the past two decades' most exiting
improvisational players. With Widespread Panic, Bramblett helped enhance the
group's Southern jams while they were searching for a new, post-Michael
Houser sound. As part of Traffic's touring lineup, Bramblett also
experimented with Steve Winwood's trademark mixture of psychedelia, jazz,
and rock. So it's interesting to watch Bramblett weave these various
influences into a few compact, well-crafted numbers. While some of Thin
Places is a bit trite, the disc, in general, manages to find a
refreshing voice before its all to brief close. Yet Thin Places is
proof that fifth members can do just fine on their own.