Devil Music, the tenth album by singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Randall Bramblett, is a dark, swampy groovefest. Its 11 songs may depict broken characters, lost causes, wandering souls, and haunted spirits, but the songwriter celebrates them for who and what they are and revels unapologetically in their flaws and triumphs. Bramblett employs a musical patchwork of contemporary sonics and rhythms to extend the margins of blues, R&B, and gospel without watering them down. The core band features guitarists Davis Causey and Nick Johnson, drummer/producer/engineer Gerry Hansen, and either Michael Steele or Michael Rhodes on bass. They are augmented by occasional horns, a pair of percussionists, and a few heavy-hitting guests. "Dead in the Water" -- about being trapped in crime and addiction -- employs Bramblett's slippery Hammond B-3 to drive a rumbling bass and guitar vamp over a snare and bass-drum shuffle. His distorted, cracking vocal is pierced by Mark Knopfler's atypically meaty guitar lines. The title track offers a tale from Howlin' Wolf's biography about visiting his mama after his success. Her response? "Get away from me devil." The hip-hop rhythm, ambient loops, horns, and greasy guitar ride are pushed into the red by a quaking bass, and the vocal -- "Mama, I can't stop/Playin' that devil music/I got the devil music/Down in my soul" -- chills the marrow. In "Angel Child," a rounder tries to seduce an innocent while freely admitting his moral bankruptcy. Ballsy. Derek Trucks' wrangling, tonally rich slide guitar contrasts beautifully with Bramblett's slithering, soulful vocal. "Pride in Place" is a grimy, choogling blues-rocker, with punchy guitars, pulsing bassline, rattling tom-toms, and spiny keyboards under a desperate confessional narrative: "When you want to love somebody/With all your damaged soul/You don't want to know about/The fire that started that you can't control...." Former Sea Level bandmate Chuck Leavell adds spicy, New Orleans-style blues piano to the swaggering R&B in "Reptile Pilot." "Whiskey Headed Woman" filters noir-ish jazz-blues and modern R&B through the lens of D'Angelo's Voodoo. "Thing for You" is a cut-time, bumping soul tune with Bramblett's Wurlitzer piano (and tenor saxophone break) punching through brittle snares and silvery electric guitars. His singing -- especially in the falsetto -- soars effortlessly above the unshakable rhythm section. Lyrically, his songs balance conscientious rational choices against addictions and base human instincts through the paths and pitfalls of living in the boardroom or on the societal fringes. Devil Music may feel like an outlier in Bramblett's catalog, but restless experimentation has always been his trademark. The production, though far from slick, may initially startle, but through it, Bramblett reveals tradition to be a living, evolving process rather than a group of fixed archival notions.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek