Randall Bramblett

Juke Joint at the Edge of the World

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"Plan B," the opening track from Juke Joint at the Edge of the World, the 11th album by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Randall Bramblett, serves as a kind of anthemic hub that the rest of the record turns on. Its distorted drum loop, syncopated dubwise bassline, and reggae rhythms meeting jump blues with fuzzed-out electric piano and filthy electric guitars deliver a narrative about being broken down in the middle of nowhere with only a half pint for company in an empty bus station. Bramblett's response to his troubles: "Might be a fool but at least I'm free/That's why they love me, I got no Plan B." This set was cut with his road band, whose members have done their share of steamy Southern nights in clubs in out-of-the-way places, and it unfolds accordingly. Nine of these ten songs are tales of people and places in marginal and often risky circumstances. The musical approach is lean, mean, and greasy. Bramblett's group gets that, rocking and focusing on attack and sharpness rather than nuance. The band stays away from studio slickness, preferring murk and atmosphere. Check the grimy, sweaty, funky blues of "Pot Hole on Main Street," the rambling second-line funk of "Garbage Man," the chord-drenched R&B of "Fine." Bramblett's lyrics in these tunes are full of wonderfully seedy imagery as they celebrate the seamy side of life. But this set is not just drunken late-night party jams; there are some wonderfully strange surprises for balance. "Trippy Little Thing" is where psychedelia, funk-blues, and African rhythms swirl in a night vision. The single "I Just Don't Have the Time" is a Chicago-styled blues strut with a half-rapped lyric full of wit, irony, and sarcasm worthy of both Mose Allison and Ben Sidran. The droning, slightly psychedelized ballad "Since You're Gone" is one of the most moving things Bramblett's ever written; its imagery and delivery are every bit as evocative as Tom Waits. "Mali Katra" is Afro-funk soldered onto Middle Eastern modalism framing wiry guitar rock, jazz keyboards, and a poetic lyric. The lone cover is a ragged, shuffling, gutbucket read of Beck's "Devil's Haircut." Double-timed snares, fat swinging horns, and wonky organ underscore the tune's instantly recognizable guitar riff -- which is pushed to surf overdrive here. Bramblett's vocal performance equates the meaning in these lyrics with his own "Plan B," making the two tunes seem like perverse companions. Juke Joint at the Edge of the World extends the direction pursued on 2015's Devil Music, but it's more consistent and less indulgent and frenetic, while simultaneously being more loose and musically adventurous. This is Bramblett and band doing nothing more than getting good songs across with the grit and immediacy they would get in a club -- and that's plenty.

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