By: Bill Thames
By Showtime on Friday night April 30th, a blustery Florida northeaster was driving liquid nails into the tin roof of the House of Blues in Orlando. The “real” storm, however, was gathering strength on the stage, just inside—and Randall Bramblett was in the eye of the storm. While supporting his new “Thin Places” CD, Bramblett has been riding an exuberant wave of excitement at packed shows—and it’s no wonder. Randall Bramblett and his Athens, Georgia based band of hugely talented musicians are playing music like no one else.
Randall Bramblett specializes in a very personal, introspective mix of emotionally charged jazz, fusion, funk, and rhythm and blues. From the moment that the curtain was raised, musical lightning coursed across the stage, and the Randall Bramblett Band blew the roof off yet another venue with a veritable symphony of explosive, expressive, and skillfully preformed music.
Bramblett and Co. opened with the gritty, guitar and percussion drenched, “Hard To Be a Human,” from the “No More Mr. Lucky”(2002) CD; a song that instantly challenged the audience to become involved. “Human,” also set the breathtaking percussion and bass driven tone for the rest of the evening’s performance. “Hard To Be a Human,” like so many of Bramblett’s latest creations, has it all—brilliant, insightful lyrics—musically challenging arrangement—and plenty of individual room for the band to stretch out harmoniously. Guitarist Davis Causey and drummer Jerry Hansen cooked-up a volatile driving pathway, leading the band through an emotional explosion of musical lightning. Jerry’s infectious smile swiftly spread across the stage, and by the bands last note, Jerry’s smile and tempo had spread well into the audience.
With each subsequent song, the music simply got richer and more dynamic. The harder rocking, and more up tempo than normal set, included a superb combination of new songs, old songs, and never heard before surprises, like “Queen of England.” As always, the music was punctuated by volatile instrumentation, Randall Bramblett’s unique phrasing, and vocals fused flawlessly with Mike Steele, and Mike Hines’ harmonies.
The third song, “Black Coat,” was a powerful, percussion and bass driven ramble that sealed the deal with the audience. Randall’s haunting saxophone solo stretched the limits of human emotion, and when it appeared that he had nothing left to give, Randall turned to his guitarists, and echoed first, Davis Causey’s searing guitar runs, and then those of Mike Hines.
When the three front men had completely whipped the crowd into a frenzy, bassist Mike Steele, drummer Jerry Hansen, and on-loan percussionist, Café DaSilva instantly took charge. From the rear of the stage the rhythm section forged its own audience assault, with a percussion and bass driven dynamic freight train. Mike Steele answered each percussion flourish with bass lines, razor-sharp and assertive, challenging the two percussionists to reach deeper with each measure.
At this point the band was a magnificent piston driven locomotive, tuned to perfection. From behind his keyboard, saxophone in hand, conductor Randall shouted, “ALL ABOARD!” and the audience scrambled onboard and held tight to the stage for the rest of the show. Randall could only smile with approval, and continue to stoke his own fire.
As the last few notes of “Black Coat” blanketed the audience, Randall peddled a note on the keyboard, while Jerry Hansen and Mike Steele began to lay down the intro groove to the grainy, “Get In Get Out.” Before you could say “Jump and Jive,” the whole band had launched into the mix, and the crowd went wild. “Get In Get Out” is a bass, and six-string guitar, funk-driven, organ and saxophone, Georgia-goodtime-gumbo—the kind of contagious rhapsody that lures curious passer-bys inside during a driving rainstorm.
After building “Get In Get Out” to a frenzy, the band stops on a dime. Instantly, Davis Causey’s guitar began to wail, once more, launching the band into “Are You Satisfied,” a Beatles inspired “Sergeant Pepper” style masterpiece which allowed Randall to step out on a lyrical limb, supported in places by only his remarkable keyboard, and Jerry Hansen’s percussion. The House of Blues is a vast, cavernous venue, but “Are You Satisfied” filled every inch of the building, and threatened to burst the seams with cosmically inspired, glowing images that transported the willing listeners to another time and place.
After concluding the wonderfully dreamy, “Are You Satisfied,” Randall took a moment to introduce the band, and then he said good night. The audience at the House of Blues would have none of that, and demanded one more. Spent, but grinning from ear to ear, the band returned to the stage, plugged in, and lit-up the stage with one more song. Veteran Randall Bramblett guitarist, Davis Causey slipped a slide on to his finger and pushed his Fender Twin to its limits signaling the beginning of, “End of the String.” At this point Randall Bramblett, Davis Causey, Mike Hines, Jerry Hansen, and Mike Steele were determined to leave the audience with the best music that they had to offer—their gift to a crowd that had braved the elements to hear fine music. When Randall Bramblett’s band finished “End of the String,” the audience had been treated to something very rare in today’s world of music. The audience had been treated to a group of musicians that played gritty, intelligent, adult rock and roll with honest straightforward lyrics.
The crowd leaving the House of Blues was delighted to find that the rain outside had stopped, and the sky was beginning to clear. Small groups formed here and there, around the doors, to discuss the spectacular show. Around back, Randall’s tour manager, Stuart Collins, was carefully packing the last of their equipment into the support truck. As Stuart closed and locked the truck’s doors, I could almost swear that I saw a flash of lightning, and heard a clap of thunder coming from inside.