Michael Bram has spent much of the recent years touring with Jason Mraz’s Band as drummer and musical director. In the back of the bus he would listen to a range of earthy, roots music. With expert production by Dave Gross, Bram has just released Suitcase In The Hall (Swingnation/VizzTone). Gross has provided an austere, spare setting in the vein of a number of recent recordings, such as by Mavis Staples and Bettye LaVette.
Bram takes us on a musical journey ranging from country (Kris Kristofferson’s Nobody Wins, Floyd Tillman’s I Love You So Much It Hurts, and Hank Cochran’s Can I Sleep In Your Arms), to blues (Slim Harpo’s Got Love If You Want It, Howlin’ Wolf’s Howlin’ For My Darling, and Leroy Carr’s I’m Going Away and Leave My Baby), and then to Bram’s blues-infused, roots originals.
The opening It Don't Matter Where You Get Your Appetite, is a swamp-blues number with evocative use of tremolo and reverb in the guitars. Kristofferson’s Nobody Wins benefits from a stark accompaniment (with nice steel guitar by Candy Cashdollar) on which Gross adds a tasteful, deliberate guitar break. Watch Out is an original that evokes Howlin’ Wolf’s Evil. Chris Vitarello adds the biting guitar fills and lead here while Bram blasts some mournful harmonica behind his vigorous singing. Hornick is also on board for the bluesy shuffle that gives the disc its title as Bram sings about leaving town with his suitcase in the hall. In addition to Bram’s harp, Vitarello crafts a solid solo on this.
It sounds like Bram is singing through his harmonica microphone for an enjoyable cover of Howlin’ For My Darling, although some might find the rhythm a bit too emphatic. Jon-Erik Kellso’s trumpet and Matt Cowan’s clarinet help contribute to a traditional jazz feel to Leroy Carr’s I’m Going Away and Leave My Baby, which has become one of this listener’s favorite selections here. It is followed by Bram’s low-key vocal capturing the mood of Bill Mack’s Drinking Champagne, and showing similar restraint on the closing, Can I Sleep In Your Arms, which contributes to the sincerity he conveys.
Michael Bram’s Suitcase In The Hall brings together some real good songs, both covers and originals, along with thoughtful and emphatic production resulting in some excellent performances. The music will appeal to a variety of listeners, especially those who can appreciate blues, country and roots rock. Both Bram and Dave Gross are commended for this splendid recording.