Doyle Bramhall’s Is It News

By Ken Shimamoto

Dallas-born singer-songwriter-drummer Doyle Bramhall’s best known for his long association with the Vaughan brothers: playing teen-snot psychedelia with Jimmie in the Chessmen, who opened for Jimi Hendrix when he played Big D in ’68; laying the groundwork for the ‘70s Austin blues scene in bands like Texas Storm and the Nightcrawlers; contributing crucial toonage (including “Dirty Pool,” “Change It,” “Looking Out the Window,” and “The House Is Rockin’”) to the Stevie Ray canon. Doyle’s also got deep roots in the Fort, being a longtime resident of Arlington Heights, where he was a neighbor of his former Millionaires bandmate, the tortured guitar genius Robin Sylar. Back in 2003, Doyle even planned to hold the CD release party for his then-current release Fitchburg Street at Kincaid’s Hamburgers at Camp Bowie and Collinwood.

His current tour will bring him no closer to the bricks of Camp Bowie than the Granada Theater in Dallas, where he’ll perform on November 9th. But even if you’re as loath as I am to venture east of the Tarrant County line, Doyle’s new CD Is It News provides ample reasons why you might wanna. Co-produced by Lafayette, Looziana-born ‘n’ bred swamp rocker C.C. Adcock (a childhood pal of Doyle’s guitar-slinging son Doyle II), Is It News is composed entahrly of Bramhall originals (unlike the cover-heavy Fitchburg Street), and proves that this old dog’s got plenty of new tricks in his tricky song bag.

To render these songs in their best light, he’s surrounded himself with sympathetic accompanists -- most notably, guitarist-keyboardist extraordinaire Denny Freeman, a sideman on Bob Dylan’s “endless tour” since 2005 and an Austin blues mafioso whose pedigree includes membership in Southern Feeling and the Cobras, as well as three late ‘80s-early ‘90s waxings for Cowtown expat Jim Yanaway’s Amazing Records. The result’s a bluesy-rockin’-soulful gumbo that has some of the hallucinatory ambience of Minnesota Bob’s ’97 return to form Time Out of Mind.

“Lost In the Congo” opens the proceedings with a steroid-and-human-growth-hormone-injected Bo Diddley beat, teased along by some greasy Jeff Beckoid guitar damage courtesy Mr. Freeman. The title track’s a shuffle with other-than-straight-I-IV-V chord changes – a form that’s a Bramhall trademark (cf. “Life By the Drop”) -- and more guitars than you can shake a stick at, while the instrumental “Chateau Strut” is something Doyle used to play with SRV and keyboardist Billy Etheridge (who appears on the track) back in ’74. “I’ll Take You Away” rides a groove worthy of Willie Mitchell and the Hi Records rhythm section; someone puh-leeze shop this song to the Reverend Al Green. Similarly, “Ooh Wee Baby” is a high-drama soul ballad that, in a just universe, would be covered by Solomon Burke; Freeman’s splintered-shard solo here is a thing of ragged beauty worthy of the young Buddy Guy.

The song fragment “You Left Me This Mornin’” sounds like a sketch for something that’d be a huge hit in the hands of one of those New Country kids, while “Top Rank Boxing” could easily be a leftover from Deguello-era ZZ Top, down to Mike Keller’s Gibbonsesque solo. “That Day” is a short, sweet, elegiac piece that would have made a fitting album-closer. Instead, that honor goes to “Little Star (The Moon Is Shining),” a slow, shimmering song with a knuckle-busting solo from Jimmie Vaughan; the circle’s unbroken. Doyle Bramhall’s a lot more than “that guy who usedta write for Stevie Ray;” on the contrary, Is It News proves him to be one of the finest purveyors of R&B-based (in the classic sense) songcraft currently treading the boards.

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