Austin, Texas singer-songwriter David Ramirez has come out swinging with this album. If you are looking for a relaxing Americana album, this is not for you. If you’re looking for some engaging folk rock that might just get you fighting mad, too, then you need to spin this album. Ramirez brings his characteristic bravado to bear on some of the world’s current crises, nestled in with his own unique reflective and thoughtful commentary.
The opener is not what you might expect; it’s a spine-tingling salvo about brokenheartedness and loss. The very first line of the album is “Where were you when we lost the twins?” Wow. If that doesn’t position this record in a hard place, I don’t know what would. As the song goes on, providing brooding low end bass and Ramirez’s iconic baritone pushing forward a sense of identity and place. “What do they mean? The stars and the stripes.” If American exceptionalism is a topic of interest for you, this is a must-hear song.
“Watching from a Distance” also brings in some mood-setting guitars that are less Johnny Cash and a bit more 21st century. Funny enough it doesn’t ruin Ramirez’s mood at all. He still cuts through the tense air with his knife of a voice, talking about the power of bearing witness. The chorus is one that allows you to sing along and pulls you into the album nicely.
“People Call Who They Wanna Talk To” is a great song in the tradition of some classic western country music. Think of Marty Robbins in the modern era. The clever lyric in the title reveals a bit of truth about how love and personal relationships take shape. When people claim to be “too busy” they just prioritize differently. It’s a cool song that has a lighter message than some of the others on the album.
“Time” has a contemplative quality about it that makes it stand out. The lyrics are clever, but the overall structure diverges a bit from the traditional Ramirez gritty style. “Good Heart” is a “rockstar” ballad, talking about drinking and the struggles of life on the road. It’s a nice singalong anthem with some more good lyrics. “Pretty charming til you come around” really stands out as a line of man doubting himself.
The track “Stone Age” was the lead single for the album and the first song I heard from it. The heavy mix on the guitars and vintage sounding vocals made my ears prick up for sure. “Funny how the future is looking more like the stone age…” The song is a traditional folk protest song that would make Peter Seeger proud, but it’s couched in a musicality that’s more prone to make Steve Miller proud. It’s a perfect combination. This is one of those songs that people will be yelling for at Ramirez shows for years to come. His lament for the decline of American civilization resonates a bit too strongly for us, but we do dig the track.
Interestingly, the stripped down “Telephone Lovers” might be my favorite on the album. It sounds like vintage Ramirez. It’s lonesome and heartbroken and deeply rewarding. It sounds more like a hymn than the work of a rock star. That’s probably precisely what I love about it. The crooning “you are too far away” lyric sounds like the cry of an honest heart. You can’t fake that.
The final track “I’m Not Going Anywhere” is a love song from the recesses of a sincere soul. Here Ramirez is at his best Johnny-Cash-channeling self. The deep bass register will make the hair on the back of your neck stand and the poetic lyrics will tug at your heart. The reassuring security of “not going anywhere” is such a profound sentiment that permeates the track beautifully. But here’s the kicker; is it about a relationship with a woman? Or is it about love for country and a decision to stay here until death?
The album is adventurous, but also moving. You can tell that Ramirez is rattled by the way things are right now. Where his past albums have plumbed his own soul’s depths, this album seems to seek a similar depth with the nation or humanity in general. Who are we? And what on earth are we doing? It’s a scathing criticism that will make you think… and hopefully love a little more. Resolve not to leave. Stay and fight for right. Ramirez needs you. EarToTheGround needs you. We need each other and we will survive.