Sat Jun 15, 2013 8:00pm EDT —
Sat Jun 15, 2013 11:00pm EDT
Randall Bramblett and his wife, Lenore, were kicking around ideas for an album title when she suggested Now It‘s Tomorrow. But no amount of thought could have produced a more apt description of where the singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist stands at this point in his celebrated career.
While Bramblett may not be a household name, he is legendary within music circles for his songwriting and musicianship. He released a pair of acclaimed solo albums in the mid-‘70s, then joined the jazz-rock outfit Sea Level, becoming their principal songwriter and vocalist. From there, Bramblett embarked on a path as a big-league, musical utility man (primarily sax and keys) and landed on the speed dial of some of the greatest names in rock history, including Traffic, Steve Winwood, Levon Helm and Bonnie Raitt.
Along the way, although he did not resume his solo recording career, he continued to perform live with The Randall Bramblett Band. Then around the turn of the new millennium, he refocused on his recording career and signed a contract with New West Records. Now It‘s Tomorrow, his fourth for the label, represents an artistic peak in his long and stellar career.
“Most of the songs speak about the experience of time passing and moving from one stage of life to another,” he says. “How much time does anyone have left? I think that‘s the big question of this record.”
Unlike his previous albums on which he cowrote extensively with other band members, particularly longtime friend and collaborator Davis Causey, Bramblett had all the songs for the new record, as well as most of the arrangements, written beforehand.
“It certainly wasn‘t a conscious effort,” he explains. “These are the songs I wrote between the last record and this one. It‘s just the way it worked out, that I happened to be working on my own most of the time.
“This record was a little different also because, except for “Blue Road,” and “You Better Move,” I had all the arrangements done. I was just playing around with them along the way and I found parts that I liked and didn‘t want to change. So this record is the closest to the demos I‘ve ever done.”
Compared to his last album, Now It‘s Tomorrow is more of a straight-up rock record with a bigger, funkier sound. “On the previous one [Rich Someday], we went into it thinking we wanted to make a more organic, trashy sounding record, a real back-porch kind of record,” he says. “We picked some songs that had a little more of an Americana feel—kind of bluesy, country, rootsy.
“This record is really energetic with some Beatles, psychedelic, and some Indian influences. We spent more time on production than we had on any of my previous records.”
Now It‘s Tomorrow was recorded and mixed by producer/drummer Gerry Hansen at his Creekside Station studio in Lawrenceville, Ga. Bramblett credits Hansen as the “guiding force in all this; the one we rely on for sounds, for mixing and the grooves.” The album also features the other members of the Randall Bramblett Band—guitarist Causey, guitarist Mike Hines, and bassist Michael C. Steele. Hines and Steele also contributed backing vocals.
“Because the demos were already pretty complete, this was a tough record to make,” he says. “Working this way, you can lose some of that excitement and energy in the studio, but everyone figured out how they could contribute, you know, and make the record theirs.
It may have been a tough album to make, but that sometimes is the mark of great art. And Now It‘s Tomorrow is arguably the strongest artistic statement of Bramblett‘s life, full of memorable songs and musical performances. His own instrumental prowess provides plenty of examples of the saxophone and keyboard chops for which he is renowned.
Bramblett “grew up playing soul music” in Jesup, Ga. His hero was James Brown, but he also had a lot of Ray Charles and some jazz influences. Those influences are evident throughout the eleven cuts that make up the new record, along with the aforementioned Beatles and psychedelic elements.
Growing up in Southeast Georgia, nature loomed large in his life, particularly the swamps around the Altamaha River. To Bramblett, the swamps represented something mystical, filling him with wonder and awe, while fueling his interest in his own spirituality.
After high school, Bramblett studied religion and psychology at the University of North Carolina, and for most of his time there, he planned to attend a seminary upon graduation. But by his senior year, inspired by the likes of James Taylor and Carole King, he began to try his hand at songwriting. The results were good enough for him to abandon his seminary plans after graduation and move to Athens, Ga. to further pursue music.
Another major influence on Bramblett‘s songwriting was Bob Dylan and he attributes rock‘s poet laureate with opening a new lyrical path for him. “I think he freed songwriters from feeling obliged to make strict literal sense. He expanded the boundaries of popular songs and that probably gave me permission to explore that, too.”
Two of the songs on Now It‘s Tomorrow, “Some Mean God” and “Where A Life Goes,” deal with absences and losses, while some of Bramblett‘s compositions are peopled by characters who would seem right at home in a Southern gothic novel. The best example of this is “Mess About It,” in which “People down in Mobile / Live in a silver box / They make trouble everywhere they go / They got history you don‘t want to know.” But the past-their-prime people in “Used To Rule The World,” like “Miss South Carolina 1975 / Somebody stole your crown),” possess similar tragicomic qualities. And when he sings about these various people in his soulful, raspy voice, the listener is transported to another time and place, much as a reader is transported while reading a Faulkner novel.
“The songs on this record come out of a very rich time in my life,” Bramblett says. “We‘ve had losses, we‘ve had births. My home is in a beautiful place in nature. I look out and I feel grateful and amazed and inspired and sad and joyful all at the same time.”