The title of Doyle Bramhall II's Shades intimates a fitting level of nuance comparable to that of his previous album, Rich Man (Concord, 2016), where he married the most profound spiritual themes of his original material to lush production and arrangement. Here, in contrast, he emphasizes his blues and R&B roots so that, as a direct reflection of the guitarist's swarthy visage, the continuity of the black and white cover graphics carries over into the music. The seamless nature of the sound is one of the album's most significant virtues, one that belies its recording in a variety of locations with varying engineers.
Accordingly, the warm human touch of "The Night" finds a heady parallel, sonic and otherwise, in the mystical overtones of "Parvanah" and "Consciousness" (try these tracks on headphones!). A dense mix of disembodied voices and instruments conjure a ghostly air on "Love And Pain" that enhances a sense of Bramhall's vocal as an internal dialogue uttered out loud. It's an atmosphere similar to that arising from the story line of "Hammer Ring," where a ride-out of electric guitars accentuates the drama, but "Everything You Need" is more straightforward modern soul, the clatter of the former cut subsiding in favor of massed vocals, not to mention the simplicity and strength of Eric Clapton's guitar solos.
Bramhall's former employer is one of a number of guests on Shades, arguably the most high profile of all including Norah Jones on "Searching For Love," where the interweaving vocals reflect the tangled emotions in the lyrics, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band, who played on and co-produced this interpretation of Bob Dylan's "Going Going Gone." Bramhall's Austin, Texas kindred spirits the Greyhounds turn up on "Live Forever," where the left-hander's guitar work (his picking grounds more than one cut here) is prominent as a foundation for the arrangement, in part overseen by the group's guitarist, Andrew Trube.
As the closing of these dozen cuts, the aforementioned "Going Going Gone," first heard on the Nobel Laureate's Planet Waves (Asylum, 1974), brings a sense of closure to a track that Bramhall makes sound like a personal statement. Meanwhile, the concise accompaniment of the entire twelve-piece unit, led by the heir apparent to legacy of The Allman Brothers Band, reduces to nil the danger of Shades ultimately sounding over-produced.
Love And Pain; Hammer Ring; Everything You Need (feat. Eric Clapton); London To Tokyo; Searching For Love (duet with Norah Jones); Live Forever (with Greyhounds); Break Apart To Mend; She'll Come Around; The Night; Parvanah; Consciousness; Going Going Gone (feat. Tedeschi Trucks Band).
Doyle Bramhall II: vocals, guitars, bass, oud; Akie Bemiss: piano, Wulitzer, vocals; Adam Minkoff: piano, Hammond B3, Farisa, clavinet, mellotron, vibes, bass; Eric Clapton: guitar; Norah Jones: piano, vocal; Todd Caldwell: Hammond B3Charlie Sexton: piano; Chris Bruce: acoustic & electric guitars; Christina Courtin: violin; Clara Kennedy: cello; Gillaumen Pirard: violin; Alissa Smith viola; Dan Brantigan: trumpet; Bryan Dye: trombone; Morgan Gordon: whistle; Byron Isaacs: bass; Anthony Farrell: key bass; Steve Jordan: drums; Anthony Cole: drums; Carla Azar: drums, percussion; Ed Miles: drums; Yuval Lion: drums; Abe Rounds: drums, percussion; Tchad Blake: percussion; Abe Rounds: percussion; the Tedeshi Trucks Band (Derek Trucks: lead guitar; Susan Tedeschi: guitar, vocal; JJ Johnson: drums; Tyler Greenwell: drums; Tim Lefebvre: bass; Kofi Burbridge: piano, organ; Kebbi Williams: saxophone; Elzabeth Lea: trombone; Ephraim Owens: trombone; Alecia Chakour, Mike Mattison, Mark rivers: background vocals); Gabby Sherba, Althea Grace, Abby Ahmad, Nayanna Holley, Sam Theuring, Stacy Werdin: choir chorus.
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