IMHO, MANY musicians are, at their core, superficial and full of shit, only saying or playing overly rehearsed lines to get noticed & trying to come off as “deep” or something they are not; see: John Mayer & Henry Rollins for proof; BUT Doyle Bramhall II gets “it”! Is it due to his DNA, a childhood growing up sharing a home with housemates like Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan or being one of the most in-demand people in the industry for the past 15 years? As Willie Dixon penned, you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover.
This is from a recent interview with the Austin Chronicle!
AC: That journey’s encapsulated in “New Faith.” My favorite part is when the instruments drop out and you sing, “I wonder if we need a new faith to live by?” What is that new faith to you?
DB: When people are writing music, it’s difficult mentioning politics and religion, right? We’re really living in these trying times though. I’m in no way trying to disparage any faith that believes in peace, but from what I’ve observed, monotheism isn’t working. There are many different people and cultures in the world, but there’s no peace to overcome these problems. There’s only focus on exclusion and what makes people different. We need a new way of thinking. There’s no empathy or understanding to combat the unrest and suffering.
I first became aware of Doyle Bramhall II through the early 1990’s band Arc Angels which featured DB2, Charlie Sexton and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s amazing rhythm section “Double Trouble”, Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton. It would be 1999 until DB’s name would cross my brain waves again thanks to his contribution of backing vocal, acoustic guitar, drums, bass, end lead trade off left side and additional rhythm guitars on “The Feelin’s Gone” from Richie Kotzen’s “Break It All Down”.
A few years passed and low-and-behold, there he was onstage with Eric Clapton. Another year goes by and I’m in GB Records & Tapes in Hays, KS. & Gary has some Hendrix-y, R&B, Soulful Rocker over the stores P.A. It caught my ear with its retro 70’s vibe yet sounding fresher than any of the NU-wtfevah crap being spewed out by MTV or radio in 2001. He advised me the album was called “Welcome” and it is by a cat who grew up with parents who shared a home in Austin, TX. With Jimmie & Stevie Ray Vaughan. Say no more! SOLD! Gary then finished his thought by advising me that it was done by Doyle Bramhall II & Smokestack. SOLD! SOLD! SOLD! Guess what? You guessed it, S-O-L-D!!!
Doyle Bramhall II’s (DB2) last solo album “Welcome” was released in 2001 under the moniker of Doyle Bramhall II & Smokestack but over the fifteen years since, he’s been one of the most in-demand songwriters, producers, and guitarists in the music world! He’s lent his vast talents to Erykah Badu, Eric Clapton, Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks, JJ Cale, Sheryl Crow, Gregg Allman, Roger Waters, BB King, Me’Shell Ndegéocello and many others.
Do yourself a favor and add these three gems to your collections as well!
My Track-by-Track Review:
1. “Mama Can’t Help You (Believe It)” If you don’t smile upon hearing legendary James Gadson’s vocal introduction and deep in the pocket drumming than you must not L-O-V-E REAL music. After a 15 year solo-output hiatus, I was worried if DB2 had grown so much musically that I would no longer “get it” or would his treks around the globe in search of himself along with his many collaborations with the vast array of artists in that time period only “up his game”? Time will tell, they say….
Well, well, well, ah yeah….DB2 hadn’t lost a step during the aforementioned hiatus. That 70’s funky yet soulful rockin’ R&B vibe was still there in all its glory! AMEN & TESTIFY! The MVP of this cut is Christina Courtin on the strings. Their lushness really add so much to the song. Odd thing is, for as good as this cut is, I feel it is the weakest cut of the entire album so that must really be saying something, right?
2. “November” continues with the 1970’s R&B vibe complete with horns. Starting out a bit melancholy that grows into a celebration of a loved one who has passed, in this case, Doyle’s legendary father, Doyle Bramhall. The combination of horns, Hammond B3, Chord Organ and stringed instruments push this song into greater territory.
3. “The Veil” a nice slow burn with this track. Digg the eerie B3 that runs throughout the this hypnotic groover. More B3, sure, don’t mind if I do! Have you found the lyrical word play yet? Oh btw, that guitar tone on the solo….SICK!
4. “My People” is tied with the next track as my favorite on the album but rest assured, this album doesn’t have a weak tune on it! Lyrically about unity with the World Music vibe to match! Goes good with dim lights and inscents!
5. “New Faith” (featuring Norah Jones)
This is quoted directly from my posting on Facebook at 4:33am today! “4:33am. Everyone is asleep yet my mind races. The Ol’ Health Job Family Blues shall we say. The future seems uncertain yet I don’t feel the usual anxiety. Odd!
I’ve got Doyle Bramhall II’s new album playing on my phone while I write. Suddenly, tears start trickling down my cheeks. WTF? Why?
Suddenly, it dawns on me that subconsciously Track #5 “New Faith” has struck a nerve so I begin this post!
I discovered a video of Doyle and his band playing “New Faith” in its purist form, acoustic. It’s even more powerful than the studio version which is included at the end of this post!
Play. Listen. Inhale. Feel!
Album version of “New Faith” by Doyle Bramhall II
6. “Keep You Dreamin'” locks you down for its duration by a potent combination of DB’s vocal range and Chris Bruce’s hypnotic bass and high gangster pluck guitar, Keefus Ciancia’s keyboards and Adam Minkoff’s clavinet virtuosity.
7. “Hands Up” is just plain fuzzy with its old Western audio landscape. I felt the homage to BB King in the guitar stabs vocal phrasing. The highlight is the fuzzy solo in conjunction with the ultra-smooth Hammond B3. I could cut that section out and listen to It on repeat just like the cosa section from Derek & The Dominos’ “Layla”. Hmmm…. 😉
The paragraph above is my PC sales pitch but there is much more to “Hands Up” than meets the eye.
The song is clearly DB2’s take on the tragedy that occurred in Ferguson, MO., the mainstream media’s attempt to fuel a race riot and the aftermath that came close to crushing the dream of REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. As much as of a fan of DB2 that I was prior to this album, I gained an immense amout of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for him after hearing this song.
Just pay attention to the lyrics and you’ll understand. DB2 isn’t writing from the left, he isn’t writing from the right, DB2 WROTE FROM HIS HEART!!! MUCH RESPECT TO YOU, DOYLE BRAMHALL II!!!
This lyric sums it up…..”So when you gonna come to your senses, sisters and brothers?
Good question! The next time DB2 is in the St. Louis area, he should get together with fellow artist Anthony Gomes and put a show on called “HANDS UP FOR UNITY” to promote healing amongst our sisters and brothers!
8. “Rich Man” is the title track and is a good choice to carry the honor. Jimi & have go to be smilin’!
9. If the first 50 seconds of “Harmony” does not give you the chills then you have no soul! Harmony is something this album does not lack!!! Just a beautiful piece of songwriting all around that touches on a
wide range of anyone’s emotions. Perfect! Isn’t that why we all love music anyways?
10. “Cries of Ages” This cut is very haunting musically in parts. Doyle gives his vocal cords a workout throughout. The rest of the tune is very gospel-esque.
11. “Saharan Crossing” is simply musical art with its headlong dive into World Music. Just close your eyes and F-E-E-L!
12. An EPIC journey is “The Samanas”. Just climb aboard and let it go, let it flow.
13. “Hear My Train A Comin'” caught my off right off the bat due to being a Jimi Hendrix classic and simply, Doyle did Jimi justice…..and then some!!!
In closing, you must absorb this album. It isn’t 4 on the floor rock but rather an audio experience where you discover new things with each spin. It is complex, simple yet diverse, melancholy, happy, spiritual playing by those involved that take each listener on a unique journey. If you choose to listen to it as an album, it still kicks major ass! Job well done to all involved!
Produced by Doyle Bramhall II
Co-Produced by Woody Jackson, Andy Taub, Adam Minkoff and Michael Harris
Engineered by Michael Harris at Vox Recording Studios, Los Angeles, CA and Andy Taub at Brooklyn Recording Studios, Brooklyn, NY
“Saharan Crossing” engineered by Cian Riordan
Additional co-production on “My People” by Paul Stacey at Paul Stacey Studios, London, UK
Additional engineering: Woody Jackson, Cian Riordan, Paul Stacey, Justin Stanley, Alex Killpartrick, Adam Tilzer, Ted Pecchio and Aurélien Jubault
All string and horn arrangements by Adam Minkoff except “Mama Can’t Help You” string arrangement by Paul Stacey
Mixed by Cian Riordan at Barefoot Recording, Hollywood, CA
Mastered by Brian Lucey at Magic Garden Mastering, Los Angeles, CA
All songs written by Doyle Bramhall II and KZ Jones except:
“My People” written by Doyle Bramhall II, KZ Jones, Woody Jackson and James Gadson.
“Hands Up” written by Doyle Bramhall II, KZ Jones, Woody Jackson and Abe Rounds.
“Harmony” written by Doyle Bramhall II, KZ Jones and Elizabeth Ziman.
“Saharan Crossing” written by Doyle Bramhall II.
“Hear My Train a Comin’” written by Jimi Hendrix
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