By: Bill Thames
For the past two weeks, while countless lucky Allman Brothers Band fans have been gathering in New York City, and swarming over the Beacon Theater, those of us left behind were doubtlessly searching for something to take our minds off the concerts that we were missing. This past weekend, while the Allman Brothers were winding-up another landmark Beacon stand in New York City, I was fortunate enough to experience what I would consider the next best thing to hearing the Allman Brothers live—hearing the Randall Bramblett Band.
Randall Bramblett’s long association with the Allman Brothers Band started years ago when he played with Scott Boyer and Tommy Talton of Cowboy, who opened for the Allman Brothers initial tours. Randall later played with Gregg during his early solo tours, then Sea Level, Widespread Panic, and now his band opens for, and he plays with Steve Winwood, who was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I was fortunate enough to hear Randall in a small intimate club called Rafters, in St. Simons Island, GA. The Randall Bramblett Band played for what they considered a hometown crowd, in support of his brand new CD, “Thin Places,” and from the first note, it was a kick ass—house-rocking show, filled with wonderful musical surprises!
I learned only after the show, that other than veteran guitar player Davis Causey, Randall’s band was brand spanking new. It was impossible to tell, however, by the tightness of the music, and their loose, fun loving attitude, that the band had only been playing together for two weeks. Mike Hines joined veteran, Davis Causey, on guitar, and the two of them played off-of, around, and through each other all night long. Both guitar players seemed equally comfortable playing anything and everything. They took turns playing haunting, emotional slide, lightning fast virtuoso runs and sustained leads, mellow acoustic fills, and crisp, clean, Nashville style finger picking. Drummer, Gerry Hansen, and the bass player, Mike Steele, were a marvelous surprise. The two of them appeared to be locked in harmonious mortal combat for the entire evening, driving the band through breathtaking changes in tempo, rhythm, and dynamics. They cooked like very few rhythm sections that I have heard, and why not? I found out later that they apparently come as a set, having played together for fifteen years. Rounding out the band was the man of the evening, Randall Bramblett. Randall took turns playing organ, piano, and dazzling the crowd with his grindstone-gritty smokehouse saxophone, as well as providing incredibly soulful lead vocals. It was easy to tell that Bramblett was in charge, because he was having the most fun!
From the first note, the crowd in the sold out club took a collective step back as if in anticipation of something dangerous that was about to leap from the stage. The band and the audience instantly locked, and in the time that it took to play two songs, a groove permeated the whole club and smiles of consenting approval spread across the bandstand. The band had good reason to smile. There was no filler this night, just honest intelligent music and clever, straightforward lyrics.
For the most part, the music for the better than three hour show, came from Randall’s two most recent recordings, “No More Mr. Lucky” (2002), and his new release, “Thin Places” on New West Records. Randall Bramblett’s extraordinary brand of rock-and-soul is so unusual and powerful that it can only be described as sophisticated adult rock and roll, arranged so that each song is virtually cinematic—that is; upon repeated listening, each song on Bramblett’s CD becomes a fleeting mental motion picture, and Bramblett’s one hell of a cameraman.
So, there you have it, proof positive—there is musical life in the rest of the country during the annual Allman Brothers stand at the Beacon. Granted, you have to search for that alternative musical life. In this case we had to drive a few hours, but musical life does exist outside of the Beacon in March.
The Randall Bramblett Band is currently touring the Southeast in support of their new CD, playing solo gigs and opening for Steve Winwood and Traffic. If you have a chance, you should make one of their shows. You won’t be disappointed—Bramblett is brilliant!