One of my all-time favorite lyrics also happens to be the only love song I've ever heard that references a professional wrestler. It was by Sea Level, a band that recorded for Capricorn Records and featured ex-Allman Brother Chuck Leavell along with Randall Bramblett, a songwriter and saxophonist. "That's Your Secret," which Bramblett co-wrote, bounces along on a Steely Dan-like jazz/funk beat but tells the story of a man trapped by his demons who arrives at a moment of decision: "'It's agonizing reappraisal,' says Dusty Rhodes/ And he's the American Dream."
That song is the closest thing Bramblett has ever had to a hit record in a music career that spans nearly 40 years. Until recently, his chief notoriety has been as a musician who has backed up other, more famous, people. His first splash was as a keyboardist and saxophonist in the original Gregg Allman Band in 1974. Then he joined forces with Leavell in Sea Level and, after that, toured with Levon Helm of The Band.
In the interim he released two solo albums that were good enough for Rolling Stone to declare him "one of the South's best and most literate songwriters." But Bramblett was fighting his own demon: drug use. His solo career was at a standstill and he stepped away from the music business. He moved to New Orleans, got a day job and packed away his musical instruments.
Bramblett had originally moved to Athens in 1969, and eventually decided to return there in the late '90s and pursue a master's degree in social work. Then, out of the blue, Steve Winwood called and asked Bramblett to go on tour with him. There was just one problem: Bramblett hadn't touched his sax in years. "I eventually realized that I was ignoring a part of myself, kind of denying it existed," he once told me. "I'd never learned how to write a song without any chemical influence. So this was a scary proposition. But it got me back into music. It was what I needed to get back into the business. It got my career started again."
Since 2001, Bramblett has released two brilliant albums of songs etched deeply in the Southern landscape. His No More Mr. Lucky is one of the best albums I've heard in the last 10 years, and 2004's Thin Places is nearly as good. While Bramblett's latest, Rich Someday (New West Records), doesn't quite approach the heights of those two, it still demonstrates why he is such an acclaimed songwriter.
There's always been a restlessness in Bramblett's songs, lyrics that capture intimate moments of deep soul-searching to find clarity. The beauty of his writing is in the details. Take "It's Alright" from Rich Someday, where the song's protagonist compulsively sorts through the pieces of a shattered relationship: "I'm breaking it down into fractions/ The tiniest of things."
Bramblett co-wrote many of the songs with Davis Causey, his longtime music partner who also had a hand in writing "That's Your Secret." A few years ago, he told me how strict Bramblett is in making sure a song is literate. "Randall will not allow any triteness," Causey said. "What I've learned from him is that a song is the ultimate short story. It has to have all the components of a story and every word matters. Most writers will take the easy way out."
Bramblett seldom takes the easy way out. In the gorgeous "The More You're Fading," he writes about a long-lost love and laments that he can no longer remember many details of the affair: "The more you're fading/ The more I want you here ... I could never let you disappear."
One thing for certain, Bramblett's music won't disappear anytime soon. On Rich Someday, he is at full strength and still writing songs for the ages.
Randall Bramblett's CD release party is Sat., July 14, at Smith's Olde Bar. $12. 8 p.m. 1578 Piedmont Ave. 404-875-1522. www.smithsoldebar.com.
Killin it. So damn sexy
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
come on man you know you got a bromance. you probably still rock that OutKast…