The late, great Muddy Waters once said, "If ya want to know about the blues, ya got's to back to church."
Jimmie Bratcher would, no doubt, endorse this view. He credits Jesus with saving him from the misery of a life of substance abuse and now devotes his life and career to spreading the word. The lyrics of each of the songs on his independently produced and self-written debut "Honey in the Rock" provide an uncompromising testament to Bratcher's faith and are about as far away from the "selling your soul at the crossroads" and "women and whisky" staples of the blues canon as you can get.
So, has the Devil got all the best tunes? Well, "Honey in the Rock"gets off to a worrying start for those hoping for a convincing musical argument to the contrary, the sub-Chicago and rather pedestrian chug-a-long "Doctor Doctor" providing a less than an auspicious lead in to the rest of the CD.
Happily, things pick up considerably when Jimmie and the boys follow on with "Do You Know a Friend", keyboard player Brad Perkins particularly evident and riding the slinky, snappy groove that the band quickly establish. A number of chords usually associated with more jazzy affairs manage to sneak their way onto the bands charts and everybody suddenly sounds a whole lot more comfortable.
Although remaining a little mild mannered things continue to coast along acceptably until the mid-point track "Keep On". Here, Bratcher delivers a decidedly more convincing vocal, the torch song arrangement finally pulling out of him the kind of soulful performance that would have provided some equally welcome gravel had it also been scattered across other part's of "Honey in the Rock"s rather smooth tarmac.
"Can't Get Over It" maintains the impetus, bright sounding and (mostly) acoustic guitar preceding a tasty electric outro and, like Keep On before it, things benefit enormously as a result of the band resisting the temptation to blues things up.
By this point suspicions are confirmed that, whatever their aspirations, Jimmie and the guys are not an out & out blues band and, indeed, sound a whole lot better when they quit trying to be. At several points throughout "Honey in the Rock", it feels like Bratcher and the band are on the brink of just starting to get cooking but stay hung up on not deviating too far away from the recipe.
Producer (and former Grinderswitch member) Larry Howard provides a clean, bright mix throughout. Pity, however, that Howard doesn't give Bratcher the necessary encouragement for him to step out a little. Bratcher's playing frequently suggests that he's willing to crank things up a bit and is just waiting for a nod that never comes.
Those who prefer a more full flavoured brew may find Bratcher's Blues-Lite a little mild for their tastes and, on the strength of this outing I'd hesitate in describing him as a name to watch. It's hard to imagine him ever shifting units in the kind of numbers that would, were he single, have record label moguls trying to marry him off to their daughters, but hey! What does he care? When you're working for God & Son Ltd the pay may not always be that great but the pension plan is out of this world.
Contact for more information: www.jimmiebratcher.com
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