Album Review: David Ramirez – We’re Not Going Anywhere

By on Friday, 22nd September 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

David Ramirez WNGA album coverWhen I first listened to Austin, Texas-based singer/songwriter David Ramirez, I found myself inexplicably torn. The song was ‘Harder to Lie’, from his 2015 album ‘Fables’, and I recoiled from its unflinching lyrical honesty and Ramirez’ brutally emotional delivery, even as I was drawn to the poignant vocal harmonies and wailing slide guitar. Upon collecting myself, my immediate thought was, “I’m not sure if I want to hear that again, or if I never, ever want to hear that again.”

My curiosity overcame my hesitation and I did some further listening to David Ramirez. His back catalogue comprises three full length LPs and a handful of EPs, all self-released and self-produced, and all with a perversely haphazard feel to them. Ramirez’ new fourth album ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’, sounds sharply focused in comparison. The songwriting is tighter and more concise, and the instrumentation is both more expansive and more deliberate, perhaps owing to production by Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Lake Street Dive). But Ramirez hasn’t strayed from his country-blues style, nor has he abandoned the raw emotionality that has become his trademark.

Perhaps the best example of Ramirez’ unique sentimentality on the new album is early single ‘Time’. Its lyrical and musical effects play off of each other brilliantly, conveying a paradoxically clear sense of the dazed apathy caused by time passing without measure or purpose. By contrast, ‘Watching from a Distance’ is the album’s most straightforward single, with a strong vocal chorus and verse lyrics that are simple in tone but pregnant with existential angst: “just ‘cos we can’t speak / doesn’t mean you’re not on my mind / like a ghost / like the moon / like a God / like the truth”.

Several of the songs on ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’ make reference to the current American political and social atmosphere. Opening track ‘Twins’ alludes to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, its title referring to New York City’s fallen Twin Towers. Lyrically, the song is almost an astonishingly simple reflection on how the country has changed in the intervening 16 years, with paired couplet questions “where were you when we lost the twins? / where were you when fear settled in?” framing the wistful echo of the chorus “there she goes . . . goodbye America, America, America . . .”

Later on the album, ‘Stone Age’ invokes ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, and Ramirez’ voice seethes with anger in the lines “I’m having trouble seeing colors in the dawn’s early light / no more red, no more blue, all I’m seeing is white”. Amazingly, the recorded version of this track captures the full impact of Ramirez’ live performance of the song in Phoenix last November, when the shock of the 2016 American presidential election was still fresh in everyone’s mind.

Ramirez’ country roots are most evident in ‘Good Heart’, where he adopts the character of a jaded barfly hardened against love, and ‘People Call Who They Wanna Talk To’, which emphasises his Texas drawl and the twang of the steel guitar. ‘Telephone Lovers’, in turn, explores the challenge of maintaining intimacy in a long-distance romance. The desperate refrain “you’re too far away” also harkened back to last November, when the song took that lyric as its working title.

The album closes with a pair of touching and more personal tracks. ‘Eliza Jane’ was inspired by Ramirez’ own great-grandmother, whose story was passed down to him by his mother, and whose narrative weaves inextricably into his own. Closing track ‘I’m Not Going Anywhere’ reflects the pair of women pictured in the album artwork, a mother-and-daughter pair of breast cancer survivors celebrating life on their own terms. Ramirez’ singing voice is at its level best here, both in terms of expressivity and technique, in his delivery of the lines “when you shake hands with grace and pass through the pearly gates / well then, find you the nearest neon sign / then, mama, you’ll see I was right / I’m not going anywhere”.

David Ramirez’s earlier music is somewhat unapproachable, his stubborn defiance proving to be both a fiery inspiration and a bit of an obstacle. But he seems to have softened slightly with ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’, despite its recalcitrant title. He describes the songs as being about “fear, and how instead of benefitting us, it sends us spiraling out of control.” My strongest impression is that the new album sees Ramirez overcoming his own artistic fear, and finding clarity in the process.

8.5/10

David Ramirez’ fourth studio album ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’ is available now via Sweetworld / Thirty Tigers. TGTF’s full previous coverage of David Ramirez is right back here.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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