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Is It News

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Album Review

Considering that it took Texas drummer and singer/songwriter Doyle Bramhall's 12 years to issue his debut album, 1994's Bird Nest on the Ground and that nine years passed before his sophomore effort, Fitchburg Street, dropped, his third set, arriving only four years after its predecessor, is quick work. Bramhall is a bit of a living legend in Texas music circles. He's worked with everyone from Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to Marcia Ball and Mason Ruffner to Jennifer Warnes — and a whole lot of others. Is It News was co produced by songwriting guitar slinger C.C. Adcock and Bramhall and recorded in five locations from Minnesota to Los Angeles to Austin to New Orleans. Bramhall wrote or co-wrote everything on the set, including "Chateu Strut" with Stevie Ray. The cast of players here is also impressive. It includes everyone from his co-producer and Jimmie Vaughan to his son Doyle II to Denny Freeman, Jason Burns, Billy Etheridge, Jimmy Mac, and Matt Perrine, just to name a few. That doesn't make it a cluttered effort, however, and Is It News feels all of a piece. The music, rooted in blues and Texas-style R&B, comes roaring out of the gate, but it's not simply some boogie bar-band effort. By the standards of his other records, this is downright slick and better for it. There is real variety in the tunes here. "Lost in the Congo" is Bo Diddley by way of New Orleans funk and swamp rock with a smokin' little guitar solo by Mato Nanji and slide work by Mike Keller. But Freeman and Adcock also play guitar here, and it's one dense, spooky rock number. The title track has a little more Texas swagger in its backside, a bluesy broken love song with great production and backing vocals. The mix is really warm and inviting and Bramhall's singing is at its very best. The swamp sound returns but the vibe is different, Texas soul. Speaking of soul, "I'll Taker You Away," with its big reverb, warm wall of guitars, and Bramhall's B-3 work, is a smoking plea for forgiveness. "Big" features the huge nasty blues-rock that made his other records so popular with I-IV-V beatheads, but Bramhall and Adcock are talking enormous here. They listened to a lot of Diddley records to get these guitar sounds and the drums. Their sound can be likened as popping up through the floor of the apartment downstairs and knock dishes off your table. It's enormous, noisy, and nasty. "Ooh Wee Baby" is a slowish love song, but made for the dancefloor. It's got all this country-styled production in it, but the sound is something from the '50s, all innocent and soulful like the best in rhythm and blues. The humorous "Top Rank Boxing" has the swamp shuffle happening, but the canned handclap sound on it would have been better left out of the mix. Also, "That Day," an acoustic number that sounds like an elegy to S.R.V., just doesn't fit here, especially so near the end of the set. The roiling-snake toughness of big-bumpin' blues is in full force on "Little Star (The Moon Is Shining)." Bramhall's voice with all that reverb on it sounds like it's coming out of a canyon in the middle of a foggy night. But it works. "Is It News" is loud and proud, full of twists and turns in its eclectic production. (Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, and Jim Dickinson will likely really dig this — even as the squares scratch their heads and wonder, What the...?) But it's also very warm. It's so warm, baby, it'll snuggle up to ya nice and slow like, then grab ya and wrassle ya to the ground and demand your full attention. Then it'll leave you panting for more. Thankfully, all you have to do to reproduce this feeling is play it again. It's retro, sure, but in all the righteous ways — in others it sounds as space-age freaky-friendly as the Jetsons. Either way it rocks. Is It News is nearly hip beyond belief. Who would have though this kinda cool still existed? This CD was nominated for a Grammy award in 2007 for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

Biography

Born: 17 February 1949 in Dallas, TX

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Born in Dallas in 1949, this singer/songwriter/drummer grew up listening to Dallas radio (with heavy doses of Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, and Bobby Blue Bland on rock & roll stations) and locals the Nightcaps, one of the country's first white electric blues bands. In high school he joined the Chessmen, which soon included a young Jimmie Vaughan on guitar; they opened in Dallas on Jimi Hendrix's first U.S. tour. Moving to Austin in 1970, he and Vaughan formed Texas Storm, which later shortened its...
Full Bio
Is It News, Doyle Bramhall
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