I'm Still the Same
The most recent memory I have of Bonnie Bramlett dates to the summer of 1971, when Delaney and Bonnie's light-hearted "Never Ending Song of Love" was battling Carol King's "It's Too Late," James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend" and the Stones' "Brown Sugar" for airplay. Since then, Bramlett, whose deep jazz roots include youthful appearances alongside Stan Getz, Maynard Ferguson, Dexter Gordon and Miles Davis, has remained largely in the shadows, jamming occasionally with A-list pals like Eric Clapton and George Harrison, singing back-up for others, raising her kids and stepping briefly into the prime-time arena for a memorable series of guest spots on Roseanne. Now, after far too long a wait, Bramlett is back in the spotlight with the archly titled I'm Still the Same (Audium/Koch). While in absentia, her voice has matured magnificently, approximating the sandpaper sass of Elaine Stritch crossed with the self-assured growl of Tina Turner. Several years in the making, this musical autobiography traces four decades of hard knocks and heartache through a clever combination of covers and original compositions. The songs tend, it seems, to work in pairs. Bramlett's "Made a Believer Out of Me," a salty paean to survivalism is, for instance, balanced by an extraordinary version of Leon Russell's "Superstar" that lays bare the lyric's remorseful self-delusion better than any other rendition I've heard. Similarly, Bramlett explores the sweet fear that accompanies a promising but unproven romance in the cautiously cheerful "Give It Time," then abandons herself to the intense fires of desire in "Closer to You." Most satisfying of all is her jumpin' "Sure Sign of Something," a finger-poppin' dissertation on romantic suspicion that clearly owes a debt to "Hit the Road Jack," teamed with a refreshingly cynical treatment of "Cry Me a River" that sidesteps self-pity in favor of stirring self-empowerment.