by Andy Doerschuk

In a career that has been defined by frustrating false starts and unrealized potential, it appears that Doyle Bramhall II has finally found an appropriate vehicle for his smoky voice and grinding guitar with the release of his third solo album Welcome (RCA).

It isn't the first time we've crawled out on this particular limb. Way back in the dark
ages of 1992 DRUM! predicted that the Arc Angeles (Bramhall's Texas supergroup featuring fellow guitar hero Charlie Sexton alongside the crackerjack Double Trouble rhythm section) would become the next big thing. Sadly they didn't, but in many ways Smokestack comes remarkably close to the sound of Bramhall's former outfit, cranking out raw hook-laden rock tunes informed by electric urban rhythm and blues.

It's no secret where Bramhall came in contact with such influences. They blared out of the hi-fi in his dad's Austin living room. Doyle senior is a living legend in his hometown, known for mentoring a young Stevie Ray Vaughn, playing drums with the likes of Lightning Hopkins, and producing albums for rootsy acts such as Indigenous.

But rather than recruit his dad, junior turned to his new drummer J.J. Johnson to cut tracks for Welcome. It was a great choice. Johnson has a round, live, resonant drum sound and a taste for simple and direct grooves and fills that perfectly complement the album's powerfully loose feel.

We especially liked Johnson's respectful Bonham impersonation on the chorus of "So You Want it to Rain," as well as the way he contrasts a driving backbeat against Bramhall's Keith Richards-flavored guitar rhythms on "Soul Shaker," and the ultra-cool turnaround on "Problem Child," where the slow 6/8 blasts into a rocking 4/4 rave up not unlike the transition in of the Stones' "Midnight Rambler." In fact, there is a pre- dominance of 6/8 feels on the album, such as the rollicking mid-tempo "Life," the slinky slow burner "Send Some Love," and the Stax-meets-Hendrix blast of "Last Night."

Bramhall is comfortably at the top of his game on Welcome, spinning out melodic Hendrix- and Clapton-inspired guitar solos and singing bluesy vocal lines over tunes that stick in your head for weeks. Get the feeling we like Welcome? It's simply one of the best jams we've heard this year.