Doyle Bramhall May 3, 2008 McGonigel’s Mucky Duck
Better Than: Every tired-ass blues jam or interminable harmonica throwdown on the planet.
Download: This scorching version of “Big” with C.C. Adcock and Nick Curran on guitars.
With producer/guitarist C.C. Adcock on emergency leave due to the suicide of his former producer Tarka Cordell, Austin blues veteran Doyle Bramhall scrambled personnel for Saturday’s show at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck and came up with another winning lineup. Working his way through the tracks on his latest Grammy-nominated Yep Roc album Is It News as well as fresh versions of several songs written with Stevie Ray Vaughn, Bramhall opted for a minimalist three piece lineup that included regular guitarist Nick Curran augmented with Austin legend Casper Rawls (Leroi Brothers, Toni Price). Rawls, who it seems has played on or produced half the records made in the Western Hemisphere the past 25 years, anchored the rhythm end while Curran was given most of the nasty licks assignments. Both men proved up to the task.
Bramhall warmed up on the classics “Good Mornin’ Little School Girl” and “Bad Boy” before setting fire to the stage with “Lost in the Congo,” co-written by Adcock. The boogie beat was pure Bo Diddley homage and gave Curran plenty of space to shower the room in hot licks. Rawls busied himself changing a string while Curran took the lead on Little Richard’s “Keep A Knockin’.” Even in live music, when it rains it pours; while Rawls twisted his tuning key frantically to get back in the fray, Curran’s guitar strap came loose, but he propped his guitar on his knee and just kept tearin’ it up. I love to watch professionals work.
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These minor disasters overcome, Bramhall raced through “Looking Out the Window” and “Cryin’,” an homage to Fats Domino also co-written with Adcock. Reaching into his bag of old tricks, Bramhall pleased longtime fans with his stellar version of Albert King’s “The Hunter” before working his way through the title track of his latest album with its cynical look at the 24 hour news channels: “is it news when you say you’ve got something to say, but I’ve heard it already today”?
Back in tear-it-up mode, the guitarists took flight on the rockin’ “Doin’ Pretty Good for the Shape I’m In” and the other rocker from the new album, “Big.” It felt like Chuck Berry. But it was an acoustic version of Bramhall’s Stevie Ray Vaughn hit “Life By the Drop” that perhaps showed the ultimate mastery of these three road dogs and left the crowd howling for more. And more was what Bramhall gave, racing through another Vaughn classic, “If the House Is Rockin’ Don’t Bother Knockin’” before packing his kit and moving on.
Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: I wish some of our local guitarists who feel the need to have six guitars onstage for a 10-song set could’ve seen Rawls changing his broken string mid-song. It seemed way more professional than a show-off rack of wood and steel. Random Detail: With his bleached spike, gazillion tattoos, and upturned collar, Curran looked like The Blonde Fonz.
By the way: Too bad they didn’t play Bramhall’s killer versions of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” or the old Elvis chestnut “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame” that Bramhall absolutely owns. – William Michael Smith