Album Review: David Ramirez – Fables
David Ramirez is rock n’ roll via Texas. He’s a little bit western and a whole lot of grit. His music is soulful, restorative, and will make you listen closely. He sings of hard times, deep love, and the rigors of the music industry. More than anything, he’s one hell of a storyteller. Historian, therapist, bartender, barb, and poet, David Ramirez is, simply put, one of the best songwriters on the planet right now. Fables fits in nicely with Ramirez’s growing iconic discography.
“Communion” opens the record with a nice chill rock vibe. It gets listeners thinking about authenticity and faith. It helps get the wheels going in a direction that is both spiritually gripping and loaded with cultural commentary. The feeling of the song pulls the listener in with Ramirez’s unique, gritty vocal while the electric guitars sooth you into a feeling that the adventure has begun.
“Harder to Lie” is definitely a David Ramirez song. The way he transitions from his high to low registers and vice versa is perfectly him. “But if you’re asking me now to tell you the truth, it’s getting harder and harder to lie to you.” This might be one of my favorite love song lines ever. It’s not what he’s saying that matters, it’s what he’s not saying. Right? It’s this sort of way of admitting that someone makes you better than you really are. For some of us, this resonates to the absolute core. To boot, the pedal steel is pretty majestic.
The following “New Way of Living” feels like folk music from the 1960s. Ramirez channels a bit of Neil Young’s lonesome, fractured vocal tone on this one. “Maybe it’s time to move on… maybe it’s time for a change. A new way of living, a new way to bring home the bacon.” I sure hope this is conjecture and not really about Ramirez’s career. “Blue collar artists” and “white collar entitlement” is a great juxtaposition. There are sure people like this in the music industry, but I sincerely, deeply hope he’s not talking about himself.
“Between a rock and a hard place, whether I like it or not I’m digging my grave. Friends ask me why I choose to stay between a rock and hard place.” What an intro! It’s a sort of song that shows the depth of a person, looking back on important parts of life. It really is the first Ramirez song I’ve heard that channels that ethos that “Shoeboxes” had in his earlier work. Maybe it’s the instrumentation, but it really seems to work. The line about “pushing me to trade my guilt for grace” is one of my favorites on the album. This is the David Ramirez we love, sad though it is.
“On Your Side” is about love. Well, more realistically, it’s about the complications of love. The minimalist instrumentation at the beginning and emotive troubadour style is perfect. As the reassuring, “I am on your side” lyric emerges with full band sound, listeners can’t help but feel that Ramirez means what he says. It’s hopeful and profoundly redemptive. It’s a breath of fresh air, as if he’s asking his love to take him seriously and trust him.
The tracks “How Do You Get ‘Em Back” and “Wild Bones” both pack a powerful message. The former talks about how love can be a life defining (even “ending”) moment. It has a kind of epic feel to it as the percussion drives home a reverb-laden rock sound. Although “Wild Bones” is slower, it fills a similarly fervent message. It’s clear that Ramirez is seeking restoration in relationships in both cases. “How did you not see I have a wild mess in me?” It sounds like the kind of thing a rocker with many regrets might write. It sounds perfect for that late set, few too many drinks in, “been there” track.
“That Ain’t Love” must have been tracked in the 70s. It’s been sitting on a hidden vinyl somewhere. It’s a track about life on the road, “off to the next city.” But really, hidden in the midst of a nice classic rock jam is a message about redemption. Do you move around from city to city, taking advantage of people, or do you stay and invest in people? “You only pick up the pieces you want… that ain’t love at all.” Ramirez is the kind of writer who can call out something like this and have it feel real and raw. Each carefully-crafted line is drawing on the emotion of being hurt by someone and it conjures real emotion.
The last two tracks “Hold On” and “Ball and Chain” couldn’t be more different. “Hold On” is hard driving, straight up rock. It’s an encouraging song, “keep marching as if the end’s in sight.” It’s a great anthem to for a workout mix or a road trip, but it also helps muster the courage to continue in the music industry. Then there’s “Ball and Chain,” a song that sounds like it could have been influenced by Noah Gundersen’s songwriting. Ramirez pulls out his Johnny Cash sound on this one. It’s a song for songwriters, “God bless the man behind the microphone. God damn that silver ball and chain.” Wow. It’s probably the best on the album, which is pretty amazing.
Where Ramirez’s last album had a lot of angst and frustration to it, this album Fables feels like it has two primary messages. First, it’s about joy in the midst of difficulty in relationships. The other is that the striving of the music industry is worth it, even if you sometimes feel like giving up. What thrills me about this album is that there are a few really great pure songs that will translate really well to live shows. Ramirez is such an awesome songwriter, there’s no reason to wash out his songs in over production. This album has just the right balance as to use the band to highlight the messages of the songs. It’s a start-to-finish love-to-listen record. It’s hard to pick a “single” on this one and that’s exactly the point. This is a fresh take on the old school of songwriting. Bravo.