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Against his time

Music | Bramblett album sounds familiar but not predictable

Issue: "The audacity of real change," Aug. 23, 2008

No singer-songwriter better epitomizes the phrase "flying below the radar" than the Georgia native Randall Bramblett. His two mid-1970s solo albums, That Other Mile and Light of the Night, received positive reviews but little in the way of airplay or sales. His recordings with Sea Level, an offshoot of the Allman Brothers Band that he joined in 1978, fared only marginally better.

Then in 1998, after 18 years of playing sax and keyboards on albums by Steve Winwood, John Hammond, and the CCM performer Jan Krist, among others, Bramblett returned to solo recording, releasing a series of excellent albums that, perhaps because they can be best described as in their time but not of it, have continued his high-praise-low-sales pattern.

Now It's Tomorrow (New West) is the latest example of his surreal blend of meditative lyrics and futuristic roots rock. If, in the age of American idols and ludicrous rappers, that blend has never been less fashionable, neither has it ever been more evocative of the age's collective unconscious.

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The casual tone of Bramblett's approach belies the gravity and the complexity of his songs, every detail of which, from the chord changes to the instrumentation, manages the neat trick of sounding familiar but not predictable, resulting in a kind of reverse déjà vu.

Nowhere is this effect more evident than in the lyrics, which usually arrive somewhere unforeshadowed by their starting point. Images unrelated at the outset of a song eventually come together. Emotions clearly delineated gradually blur.

Even the songs with central or peripheral references to God ("Some Mean God"), Jesus ("Let's Go"), and heaven ("Where a Life Goes") end up suggesting less about the benevolence or malevolence of the universe than about the inevitability in a fallen world of experiencing even grace as pain.

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