Given his impressive pedigree — stints with Gregg Allman, Bonnie Raitt, Widespread Panic, Steve Winwood and Traffic among his many associations — you’d think Randall Bramblett would be better known by now. A multi-instrumentalist who’s equally well versed on keyboards, guitar, horns and harmonica, he’s been the musician that’s been mainly behind the scenes when it comes to augmenting others’ arrangements and bringing so many albums to proper fruition. However, that’s the plight of countless artists whose work has relegated them to support status, and despite the fact that he’s recorded intermittently on his own, he’s mostly shunned the spotlight over the course of a 40 year career.
The closest Bramblett came to securing stardom was when he played a leading role in the band Sea Level, a southern funk band that prefigured today’s jam band genre. While co-navigating the helm with Chuck Leavell, another remarkable musician who would go on to play with an impressive roster of superstars as well, Bramblett developed a penchant for blues and R&B, a logical byproduct of his Georgia heritage. It’s a style that informs his new album, Devil Music, an archetypical set of songs that find him firmly entrenched in a sound that’s consistently unyielding and dynamically delivered. Bramblett rarely deviates from the norm, choosing instead to grind his roots with dark determination and amplify them with a surreptitious sound that hints at the strains of the Mississippi Delta. Given that approach, songs such as “Dead in the Water,” “Devil Music” and “Pride in Place” come across with both grit and a groove, darkly defiant and yet impressively authentic. It takes “Reptile Pilot” and “Whiskey Headed Woman” to inject some much needed spunk, the former by way of its brassy horns, the latter due to its freeform, seemingly improvisational feel, which brings it closer to jazz than Bramblett’s otherwise earthbound melodies.
To his credit, Bramblett’s chosen a terrific supporting cast to help accomplish his mission, enlisting Mark Knopfler, Derek Trucks and old pal Chuck Leavell for cameo appearances on various individual tracks. Still, that doesn’t prevent Devil Music from coming across as a somewhat heady set of songs, one that’s not always readily accessible but still intriguing nevertheless. It’s unlikely it will bring Bramblett out of the shadows, but it is unabashedly assertive regardless.
Of course, the title being called Devil Music does hint at the uneasy underbelly that’s at the root of most of these songs. For that reason alone, Bramblett deserves kudos for maintaining his devotion to duty. Devil Music is clearly one hell of an effort.