CD Review: Brian Wright – Rattle Their Chains (Sugar Hill, 2013)
Waco ex-pat (and recent Nashville immigrant by way of Los Angeles) Brian Wright garnered many positive reviews for his 2011 Sugar Hill debut, House on Fire. His second album for the label (his fourth overall) not only avoids a sophomore slump, but shows tremendous growth in his music, performing and style. Wright is more of a writer than an entertainer (though he is indeed quite entertaining), with music that strives for more than meter-fitting rhymes and a pleasant way to pass three minutes. His latest opens with a soulful electric piano that brings to mind Ray Charles, a jaunty drum beat and a declaration – “never made a promise that I thought could not be broken” – whose wry tone is in league with Randy Newman. It’s a compelling combination, with Wright’s Dylanesque catalog of never-haves stoked by hard-shuffling drums and a driving bass line. The effect is both cool and hot, like a smoldering attitude amid flammable emotions.
His inventories continue with the demons enumerated in “Haunted,” cleverly turning the phrase “I’m trying to right my way out of all I’ve done wrong” and then transforming ‘right’ into ‘write’ by finishing the couplet with “trying to pay off my sins, and pay back my friends, song after song.” There’s another catalog in the experiences of “Weird Winter,” reading like a third-person cousin to the Beatles’ “I’ve Got a Feeling.” Wright’s new music spans folk and country, with flavors of pop, rock (highlighted by a heroic 70s-styled guitar solo on “We Don’t Live There”), blues, soul, gospel and brass-band jazz. Wright leads his backing band (itself a switch from the self-played arrangements of House on Fire) with aplomb, but the folk styles of “Red Rooster Social Club” and “Can’t Stand to Listen” leave extra room for the emotional edges of his voice. This is a finely-crafted step forward from his previous album, showing off both Wright’s ever-sharpening songwriting and growing reach as a performer.