Damon Bramblett, the pride of Bangs, Texas, is a tall drink of water with a voice like Johnny Cash. Comparisons to The Man in Black are utterly unavoidable, even though Bramblett's voice is pitched a half-octave or so higher. The similarities lie in Bramblett's Cash-like quaver and, more vaguely, in the songs that both men write, which tend to dwell on the darker side of life and the warring factions of God and the bottle.
Bramblett's songs, in fact, so far have been his meal ticket, having been cut by Kelly Willis, Sara Hickman and each of the Robison brothers. With his self-titled debut, released this spring, Bramblett is hoping to make himself more than just a name on someone else's CD.
Consider it done. A beguiling album of 11 impressionistic story-songs set against stark musical backdrops, Bramblett's debut germinates as slow as a West Texas cactus but blooms twice as majestically. On first listen, Bramblett's extremely deft southpaw picking comes to the fore. Producer Lloyd Maines (who seems to be everywhere at once these days) is wise to spotlight Bramblett's playing, for not only is his musicianship impressive but his lyrics take some time to sink in. One needs a soothing backdrop to mull over such lines as "She was always looking for her cigarettes / even after she lost her mind" off "When I Was Blind" and to ponder his various descriptions of the moon, such as "a red-faced drunk with a hundred black eyes" or "a big rotten egg trashing up the sky."
As befits a West Texan, Bramblett writes spare-sounding songs that deal with concepts as expansive as the heavens, such as society's smug self-satisfaction ("Nobody Wants to Go to the Moon Anymore") and the bandwagon phenomenon ("Tear Him Down"). Although he's lumped in with the alt-country crowd, Bramblett is a misfit in any genre. There are country sensibilities, to be sure, but also elements of Dylanish folk, rock, Piedmont blues and rockabilly. He even occasionally trucks with an out-and-out jazz noir piece such as his own "Champaign, Illinois."
Austin is a big town full of musicians, hype and hyped-up musicians. Few have Bramblett's genuine talent, and it will not be long before he joins the first rank of Texas songsmiths.
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