Secretly Famous

The Rev Jimmie Bratcher
Secretly Famous

To judge by his seventh long-player, The Rev Jimmie Bratcher is not your typical blues rocker. His writing is strong, and his singing, unmannered yet entirely convincing, is right on target. On the guitar side, his tones are varied and never strident. Rhythm parts are well thought out and interesting, and leads are based in feel rather than furious fret attack. Another key element in the just-released Secretly Famous’s appeal is a rhythm section (Craig Kew, bass; Lester Estelle, drums) that is more than capable of shading its approach. This is all to the good: the performances are tough enough to satisfy listeners from the rock camp, without overdoing the clichés that turn off real blues fans.

On what he says is his most roots-based album, Bratcher shows an impressive stylistic range. “Jupiter And Mars,” co-written with his son Jason, offers a fresh take on the undying subject matter of cars and girls over a satisfyingly greasy and spacious groove. With its wild drive, crisp Gibson leads, and a Leslie-fied rhythm guitar mimicking a Hammond organ, “Feels Like Friday” sounds like vintage Allman Brothers. The mid-tempo “Nowhere To Go But Down” pairs an indelible melody line with a slinky arrangement that is, improbably, both laid-back and punchy. “I Can’t Shake That Thing” splits the difference between Delbert McClinton and The Meters. Bratcher’s delivery strikes a perfect, and appealing, note on the lighthearted, country-blues flavored “Bologna Sandwich Man.”

Secretly Famous serves up several undeniable earworms. Consider the memorable guitar line and distinctive mood shifts in “When I Fall Apart” (a likely hit, had it been released 35 years ago); the genius combination of power pop and crunchy, Stones-inspired riffing in “Starting All Over Again”; and the laid-bare, impassioned reading of The Association’s 1960s hit “Never My Love,” a surprising inclusion that really works. Perhaps the album’s craftiest track is the funky, Little Feat-styled “57.” Here Bratcher cleverly sings the praises of Shure’s ubiquitous microphone in terms that would as easily suit a feminine subject. Not every song is as successful. The rowdy “Check Your Blues At The Door” seems written-to-order and trite, and the ballad “It Just Feels Right” is, to these ears, mawkish boilerplate (though it could well be a contemporary country hit).

I’ll be completely candid and tell you that a couple of my personal biases surfaced when I heard about Secretly Famous. I am suspicious when I see the honorific “Reverend” in use, unless the Reverend in question is a civil rights leader or at work in church (I make an exeption for Billy Gibbons’s clearly lighthearted use of the term, largely because I’m not certain he has ever self-applied the title). And the blues rockers who typically engage Jim Gaines to produce are not, in general, my cup of tea. So, despite a personal recommendation from Bratcher’s publicist telling me I would likely enjoy the new CD, I almost took a pass. I would have missed hearing a good one.

Tom Hyslop

Review copy provided by Mark Pucci Media.