Reckless Kelly / Damon Bramblett / Damnations – Hole in the Wall (Austin, TX)
“I have a request from the band; they want to do a Johnny Cash song,” said Damon Bramblett right before launching into an energetic rendition of “Flat Wooden Box”. “I’m not real familiar with his stuff but we’ll see what we can do.” The comment was sarcastic, but necessary, as Bramblett sounds so much like Cash that failure to acknowledge this would certainly constitute some form of plagiarism.
Still, while Bramblett’s voice is similar to the deep miracle that Johnny Cash’s was in his prime, and while he plays with the standard Sun Studios-style trio of upright bass, drums and guitar, he’s no mere hack in black. All of the material performed at his late-night set at Austin’s Hole in the Wall was excellent. Particularly strong was “No One Wants To Go To The Moon Anymore”, recently covered by Sara Hickman, although “she changed the title, the melody, and some of the words,” Bramblett cracked. The highlight was “Waiting For The Mail”, a dark prison song.
Although Bramblett was officially the headliner, the majority of the near-capacity crowd was there to see the Damnations — sisters Deborah Kelly and Amy Boone on guitar and bass, respectively; drummer Keith Langford; and jack-of-all-strings Rob Bernard (guitar, banjo, mandolin). Proficient in a variety of styles, the band rendered Appalachian folk, a beautiful ’50s-sounding number called “Give Me All of Your Heart”, a couple of tunes that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Rosanne Cash’s Interiors, a cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Happy Woman Blues”, and one song that sounded a lot like a country version of the Breeders’ “Cannonball”.
The Breeders comparison is partially a result of the Damnations’ instrumental approach. While certainly a country band, they place the bass very prominently in the mix, using it to reflect the melody in a way more commonly done in alternative rock. This works quite effectively, especially given the quality of Boone’s bass playing. In fact, the musicianship was solid all around, and though the vocals were a bit thin at times, the harmonies between Kelly and Boone were perfect. The enthusiastic response the Damnations received from the audience was well deserved.
Opening was Reckless Kelly, who crammed five musicians onto the Hole in the Wall’s tiny stage while enduring the indignity of not being allowed to begin until after the Rockets-Jazz basketball game was over. Excellent instrumentalists, my first impression was that they were very good at adding clever flourishes to rather generic country-rock tunes. However, after a scorching version of “Copperhead Road” (Steve Earle is clearly a major influence), they closed the set with some excellent originals. Perhaps they were just waiting for more of the Damnations’ crowd to arrive before breaking out the good stuff.