On one level, Randall Bramblett's Pine Needle Fire, is another entry in a catalog steeped in soul and funk, rock and R&B. On the other hand, it's arguably the most lyrically intimate, poetically revealing outing in his career. Bramblett the world traveler offers up sly humor, honesty, and even wisdom with Southern grit and groove. His other side reflects upon his growing up among the pines in Jesup, Georgia; he understands those who live, work, and raise families in small towns and knows their stories are ultimately America's on a cellular level. But Bramblett is also living through the dangerous times our world is currently steeped in. He balances memories of and reflections on everyday life with advice for staying sane -- even if he's offering the latter to himself in the mirror.
"Some Poor Soul," begins with a guitar drone, choogling congas, a rubbery bassline, and chunky electric piano. Bramblett's falsetto offers observations from a traveler's life: Some poor soul, had to get up at four/I hear the shower running, in the room next door … The race is on…. Swelling synths, strings, guitars, and a trap kit, transform it into a hard-grooving funk number. "Lazy (And I Know It)" frames a humorous narrative in drum loops, funky Rhodes, and clacking synths. The greasy, off-kilter groove is punctuated by swaggering horns and Betsy Franck's sultry backing vocals under Bramblett's falsetto. The title track is introduced by pillowy atmospherics with backmasked guitars, twinkling electric piano, a shuffling loop, and layers of sonic drift. Its lyric is about the searing memory of first romance: Love made of turpentine/Love made of smoke and tears/Out on the fire break lines/And up the tower we will climb…. "I've Got Faith in You" tenderly melds soul, psych-pop, and gospel. Bramblett's voice drips with sincerity while former Cowboy guitarist Tommy Talton punctuates his words with slide fills using Duane Allman's Gibson SG. The lyric is like an inside-out sequel to Bob Dylan's "Forever Young": When you’re runnin' out of luck/And the streets won’t hold you up/And the meanness of the night knows where to find you/I’ve got faith in you …. "Another Shining Moment" addresses the tension of the current era with stirring gospel piano and George Harrison-esque slide guitars framing Bramblett's most resonant vocal. "Built to Last" is a swampy, midtempo rocker juxtaposing the troubled state of the world with the everyday concerns of small town life. As if to underscore, "Never Be Another Day" weds Americana and sweet soul. Its lyric encourages sanity via attentiveness to the moment and letting go of the unchangeable when life is turned upside-down. While Bramblett manifests a degree of poignancy on all his records amid rowdy roadhouse rock and R&B, it is a guiding spirit on Pine Needle Fire, shot through with an aching yet grateful heart, abiding empathy, and self-effacing humor. It is exactly the kind of record the 2020s call for.
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