Doyle Bramhall

Doyle Bramhall
Is It News

Yep Roc Records 2007-09-18

By Brian D. Holland
February 2008

Drummer Doyle Bramhall, known as Big-D to his friends, has released Is It News on Yep Roc Records. Though often mistaken for his axe-slinging son, this Texas bluesman has garnered deserved respect among Texas peers and blues fans everywhere.

Just his third solo album since the acclaimed Bird Nest on the Ground, released in 1994, Is It News is a diverse and thoroughly enjoyable batch of songs.

Deeply rooted in the blues, this Texas icon and longtime friend of both Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan may give the impression that heís more traditional than the younger Bramhall. However, this effort may surprise those who think along that line. Bramhallís sound, though born of tradition, is really very unique and innovative, and the songs arenít always soft and laid-back.

The fact that Bramhall has produced critically acclaimed albums for the likes of Chris Duarte, Indigenous, and Marcia Ball is an indication of the diversity in his taste.

Also a renowned Texas singer-songwriter (he penned “Change It” and “Lookiní Out The Window” for Stevie Ray Vaughan, whom he also collaborated with,) this diverse musician was a member of the Chessman, a Dallas band that opened for Jimi Hendrix back in the late 1960s.

Itís easy to understand that the variety in Is It News was created by a songwriter with a keen sense of percussion - a bandleader who cleverly combines a variety of drumming techniques, basic though assorted, into his sundry compositions. However, as enthusiastic as Bramhall can be, showboating isnít a trait that exists on this album.

Everyone involved made valuable contributions to the music. Letís talk about the musicians who assisted the drummer in laying down the tracks. Doyle Bramhall II was able to get away from his burgeoning solo career, his long running stint with Clapton as well, to play guitar on his fatherís latest release. Also helping out on guitar: Jimmie Vaughan, C.C. Adcock (a swamp rocker and producer known for his work with Jack Nitzsche,) Denny Freeman (Jimmie Vaughan, Taj Mahal, Bob Dylan,) Mato Nanji (Indigenous,) and a young Austin slinger named Mike Keller. Scott Nelson on bass, Billy Etheridge on keyboards, and others helped to create this wonderful disc, as well.

Incorporating flavors of swamp and southern rock, zydeco, blues, soul, and country into the mesh, these fine musicians add individual influences into the mix, forming a hodgepodge of diverseness that corresponds flawlessly with the Bramhall imagination.

The albumís tracks are layered with interesting effects and lots of guitar and percussion, giving an extremely contemporary atmosphere to original and deep-rooted music. Many of the compositions were written over the last 25 years or so, some with friends Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan. For the most part, the melodies are potent and extremely addictive.

The album opens with a drum-laden, native ambiance in “Lost In the Congo.” The sound is swampy, raw, and gritty, yet very creative in its approach. A Ďtraditional meets contemporaryí trait is noticed immediately. The title song, which begins in a kind of J.J. Cale groove, sails off in a soulful direction. As mentioned previously, an avid rhythmic quality is present throughout, as everything involved contains a percussive ambiance that greatly enhances the sound and the flow - particularly obvious in the songís dual rhythm guitars.

Keep in mind that thereís a little for everyone on Is It News. It gets pretty powerful in places, too, especially in “Big.” This one rocks out with distorted guitars and powerful percussion. “Chateau Strut” is just that, an energetic instrumental strut containing a jazzy piano solo and a vivacious rhythm guitar. “Iíll Take You Away” is a blues based contemporary pop-rocker. Though most of the material on the album is heavy on guitar, often amid dual rhythms, this one gets into a Steve Cropper mode: those beautiful melodic fills on the upper frets.

“Ooh Wee Baby” gets into the same soulful approach, and it drives along in an addictive groove. Adcock does the interesting chicken pickiní solo at the songís end. One is easily taken by surprise by the abrupt change in technique in the short instrumental, ďYou Left Me This Morniní,Ē that follows. Its title and melancholy melody parallels the loss felt in “That Day,” a mellow acoustic number Bramhall relates to the day we lost Stevie Ray Vaughan, his friend and collaborator. He ends it by singing, “All I can do is cry.”

Is It News is a breath of fresh air in a world congested with an overabundance of bland and superfluous music, proving once again that there is good stuff out there. Bramhallís musical interpretation of blues and blues-rock is presented with all-around originality and uniqueness, without the typical sameness that many musicians either adapt or fall into.

Though basically blues in genre, the music steps out of the boundaries and boldly goes out on earthy tangential limbs. Bramhall said that he wanted to create an album that was energetic yet unpredictable. The diversity and originality exerted in each of the albumís twelve tracks reach that goal, and more.

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