Doyle Bramhall II Previews 'Shades' Album With Guest Spots From Eric Clapton, Norah Jones & More

Hanna Evensen
Doyle Bramhall II

After taking a 15-year break between solo albums, Doyle Bramhall II promised that 2016's Rich Man signaled a return to active duty. And he's making good on that with his new Shades, out on Oct. 5 and premiering in its entirety exclusively below.

"I think with this record I wanted to get into the flow of touring throughout the year and then at the end of that year going in and making a record and putting it out the next year," Bramhall tells Billboard. "I would love to make an album a year. I don't know if that's possible, but if it is that's what I'm going to shoot for from now on."

Bramhall, of course, has kept busy on the road not only with his own shows but touring with Eric Clapton and Roger Waters and also working in the studio with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sheryl Crow, the late Gregg Allman and others. Those collaborations eclipsed Bramhall's own work for a time, but he's worked to regain some balance during the past few years.

"I'm pretty prolific," Bramhall -- who plays on Clapton's new holiday album Happy Xmas -- says. "Even though I took a 15-year sort of detour into accompanying other artists, I'm always coming up with ideas for songs, daily. I record a lot of them but I never get to the record-making stage with them. I've been just sort of stockpiling. But now it feels really good. It feels like all the parts of the machine are firing up at the same time."

Bramhall started work on Shades while on the road supporting Rich Man, hunkering down in hotel rooms in Europe and testing things out at sound checks -- and even hitting a studio in Hamburg last summer when a few U.K. gigs fell through and left Bramhall and his band "stranded" for a bit. One song, "Consciousness," had been demoed for Rich Man, while the other 11 were crafted specifically for the album, which features guest appearances by Clapton, Tedeschi Trucks (on a cover of Bob Dylan's "Going Going Gone"), Norah Jones and the Greyhounds.

"When I make albums I really like to sort of take snapshots of whatever time period I'm doing through," Bramhall says, "'cause I feel like the songs and the albums and the music really represent life expressions." Those on Shades also demonstrate Bramhall's artistic breadth as he weaves rock, blues, R&B and more into a genre-splicing mix.

"I think it just sort of happens innately now," Bramhall explains. "These songs are naturally what come up. It's not like I'm trying to wear a hat for each sound; They seem to be pretty diverse, and it's all pretty open. It's a pretty wide spectrum of a wheelhouse. I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder albums and Sly Stone albums and the Beatles; Their music was all encompassing, and that's what I aspire to as well.

"I think the continuity for me in all that... is just me. I do feel like I have my own sound, and it encompasses a lot of different styles."

Shades' release will take Bramhall back on the road, but true to his word he's "already thinking" about what comes next. "It's hard to fathom I would already be thinking about making my next album when I haven't played these songs live yet," he says with a laugh, "but, yeah, I'm already thinking of things now, and I've been writing a few songs already for it." Meanwhile we'll also be hearing his playing on Clapton's Happy Xmas, coming out a week later on Oct. 12. "I've done so many different styles of records with him that it didn't surprise me at all," Bramhall says. "My first thought was that he would want to do that for his kids, and when we actually started getting into it the band was great -- Jim Keltner, myself, Nathan (East) on bass. And when I heard it back...it was so good. I'm in line to buy it, for sure."