Innovation in today's blues scene is hard to come by, so it's small wonder that Doyle Bramhall's Is It News was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Blues category. Bramhall's credentials are super-solid: They're part of that gang of blue-collar, mostly Dallas-bred, Austin transplant kids (Stevie and Jimmy Vaughan, Tommy Shannon, Lou Ann Barton, Angela Strehli) who ran counter to the Cosmic Cowboy and Progressive Country trends that swept Austin in the early '70s. They stuck to the blues, even when it hardly paid for the beer, much less the rent. They weren't beer people anyway.
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Produced by swamp-rocker C.C. Adcock, Bramhall's latest tracks ooze with credibility and a feel for the structures of pop that make his songs leave the narrow confines of the blues. "Lost in the Congo" and "Big" are the nastiest, meanest, coolest tracks of the year — shaking, thundering masses of drums, guitars and soul. You can call them blues, but they flat rock. If you only see one blues show this year, make it this one.