Album Review: Brian Wright — Rattle Their Chains
Brian Wright carries the weight of the many chains that have bound him in the past and out of which he breaks on this new album, shaking those iron fetters like Marley’s ghost come to call us to the blues of future past with a vision of the specters that haunt our lives: death, misdirected love, squandered youth and hope, and the promise of new birth.
On his 2011 release, House of Fire, the Waco native was trying to exorcise some personal demons. His vision for Rattle Their Chains, however, scans a wider field. During the time he was writing the album, Wright also moved his family from Los Angeles to Nashville, and he started thinking a good deal about his roots, his musical influences, the deep changes wrought by deaths in his family and the birth of his daughter; the songs on the new album grow out of these experiences, and even though Wright still plays most of the instruments on this album, he gathered around him some friends who could deliver some straight-ahead, tight versions of his bluesy roots rock and his straight-to-the-heart ballads.
Wright’s Texas songwriting roots poke up through the rich earth he tills on these tunes. “Can’t Stand to Listen,” for example, is a wry take on Guy Clark’s “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” where Wright’s singer “never had the heart to hold on tight to anything/A puppeteer whose greatest fear was running out of string/The patron saint of railroad trains is handing in his wings/And going to find the life he left behind.” Yet, Clark is not the only influence on Wright; he’s also cast in the mold of Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson, and John Prine. “Face of the Earth” finds a Prine-like storyteller regaling us with one of Prine’s—and Wright’s—great themes, the irony of wanting a love that’s impossible to hold, a woman who knows herself so well that she refuses to conform to any idea of love that’s not her own. Indeed, Wright’s gravelly voice often resembles Prine’s weary, gruff voice on many songs on these albums. “Red Rooster Social Club” is a plaintive ballad, made more melancholy and lonely by the accordion that weaves under and around the lyrics, about an isolated bar “just south on the highway, just past the county line/If you’re looking for trouble, you’re as likely gonna find it/If you’re looking for a lover, or had one leave you behind/Come in and make yourself at home,” and would easily be at home on any Nanci Griffith album. “Haunted” opens with a guitar riff straight off of Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run” and then evolves into a slow country waltz whose chords evoke the singer’s fear of the past and the ghosts he can’t quite shake; straight out of a late Beach Boys album, “Hear What I Want,” is a jangly, Hollies-tinged shuffle about the ragged ways that we shut down the voices of others, especially the ones we love.
Wright’s powerful, bluesy guitar is as powerful as his songwriting, and his riffs owe as much to Ray Davies and Bob Dylan as they do to Mick Fleetwood and Kim Simmonds. The opening track, “Over Yet Blues,” delivers the British blues of the early Fleetwood Mac circa Mystery to Me and the Savoy Brown of Looking In as the singer raises themes that haunt the rest of the album: “Never made a promise that I thought could not be broken/Never had a moment that I thought might be hopeless/And I never gave a thought, never entertained the notion/That I was not the captain, and this was not my ocean.” Sounding like a cut off a Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen album, “We Don’t Live There Anymore,” which looks back at a place for which the singer has no nostalgia, features Wright’s screaming John Hiatt-like lead guitar.
Long after the final notes of Rattle Their Chains, Wright’s songs continue to haunt with their transcendent melodies, their cut-to-the-heart lyrics, their wry, canny, and knowing way of evoking despair, sadness, and joy.
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