Sunday, July 28, 2013

Album Review: The Bright Spots, Randall Bramblett

Whenever anyone asks me what I like most about the Americana music genre, I always tell them that it's the freedom the artists have to create the most compelling music possible. Such is the case with the latest release, The Bright Spots, by music veteran Randall Bramblett.  Released in May on powerhouse Americana label New West Records, Bramblett has pieced together an album that works for all summer occasions.  This album is perfect for relaxing in the backyard, or rolling down the highway on that weekend roadtrip.  

Bramblett kicks in to the funk right off the bat with "Roll", a tune that speaks to making the best of all situations in life.  Leading with solid percussion and blues guitar, followed by blistering horns and vocals, this is the perfect lead song to set the table for what's to come.  The use of the keyboard and understated vocals make "Every Saint" a nice blues number that speaks to a man trying to find his salvation and spirituality.  "'Til the Party's All Gone" is a nice follow up to the heavy "Every Saint", as this is a really nice and light number.  The horn section in the chorus of this tune are really effective in driving home the feel-good nature of this song.

Perhaps the best musical performance on the album comes with "My Darling One."  Quite frankly, this song is good enough to be played on any mainstream radio station if only they would have the stones to play it.  Bramblett's smooth yet gritty vocal is the perfect offset to the fabulous guitar, organ and piano.  This performance brought out the best in everyone involved. From this performance, Bramblett rolls right in to some hard core blues with "Whatever That Is" a tune that, when listened to, invokes visions of sipping on some fine whiskey and beer in a smokey blues bar.  "John The Baptist" kicks up with a psychedellic sound before rolling right back to the blues.  

The second half of the 12 cut album kicks off with "Shine", an inspirational number that speaks to keeping ones spirits up and always remembering that tomorrow has the potential to be a better day.   Blues and funk make a wonderful marriage on "Tryin' To Steal a Minute".  This is followed by the beautiful "Detox Bracelet", a song that takes a wistful look back on what might have been.  Psychedelic, funk and blues meld together nicely on "You Bring Me Down", while the album closes out with the spiritual sounding "All Is Well" and the reflective "Rumbling Bridge."  

Given that Mr. Bramblett is from southern United States where musical influences abound, it is not surprising that Bramblett is able to create such an excellent piece of art like The Bright Spots.  Working with such contemporaries as Gregg Allman and the late Levon Helm will surely go a long way in stretching your musical boundaries and creativity.  With the Bramblett written composition of "Used To Rule The World" appearing on Slipstream, the Grammy-winning album by Bonnie Raitt, and the May 2013 release of this fantastic album The Bright Spots all taking place within the last 12 months, one can definitely say this is the year of Randall Bramblett.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Concert Review: Alejandro Escovedo and the Sensitive Boys, The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, Ontario -- July 8, 2013

It was a busy and historical weekend in Toronto as the inaugural Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF) took over the grounds of Fort York by day and the venerable Lee's Palace and Horseshoe Tavern for festival goers who wanted to keep the party rockin' by night.

Americana legend Alejandro Escovedo with his band, The Sensitive Boys, had the distinct honor of being the final act for what appears to be the wildly successful festival's first run.  Playing his second set of the day after appearing on the main stage at the festival grounds, Alejandro showed the large Horseshoe crowd he still had plenty in the tank to close out year 1 of TURF and get everyone looking forward to next year's installment.

Opening his hour long set with "Castanets", a great, rocking song to get the crowd moving after a long weekend of music in the outdoors.  "Castanets", of course, has a legendary appeal to it on its own, as back in 2005 it was revealed that then U.S President George W. Bush had that song on his iPod.  Upon learning of this, Escovedo apparently vowed not to play this song until it was either (a) removed from the President's iPod, or (b) Bush was voted out of office.  In 2008, the song found its way back on the live stage after a roughly 2 year absence, with the departure of the former President.

Escovedo has the benefit of performing every night with one of the finest backup bands I have ever watched with the Sensitive Boys.  To watch lead guitarist Ricky Ray Jackson and Escovedo trade licks is a pleasure for any guitar aficionado.  The professionalism of the entire group is apparent.  They show up and start their set on time and are there to entertain with a straight ahead performance.

Escovedo's musical diversity was on full display as well, rolling from a nice, beautifully performed ballad "The Rain Ain't Gonna Come" to a more psychedelic sound with "It Makes No Sense."  One of the real highlights of the night was the performance of the Chuck Prophet co-written song, and the band's namesake, "Sensitive Boys."  The band's musicianship really shone on this particular performance.

Ironically, the strongest reaction from the crowd came with the encore.  One certainly can't go wrong playing a Neil Young song on stage in Canada, and you certainly can't go wrong when you play a version that rivals the original.  The performance of Young's "Hurricane" brought anyone sitting to their feet and was a fantastic way to close out the show and the inaugural TURF.  If the crowd's and crowd reception are any indication, this was the first year of many years to come for TURF.  

Alejandro Escovedo is on tour extensively through the rest of summer and in to the fall, performing with The Sensitive Boys on a few dates, with Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys on a few more, and co-headlining a tour in the fall with Shelby Lynne.  Check out Alejandro's web site for dates and times, and by all means go and see this wonderful performer.