Major League Blues
I have to
admit that after hearing “Whatever She Wants,” the
single released by Jose Ramirez last year after signing
with Delmark Records, I was really anticipating his
first album from the label. After all, his first album,
2020’s Here I Come, ranked as one of the best
releases of that year and earned the Costa Rican blues
man a 2021 Blues Music Award nomination. Teaming with
the esteemed Chicago label sounded like a “can’t miss”
project for Ramirez and, indeed, the result, Major
League Blues, is every bit as potent as the
guitarist’s first release, and then some.
Ramirez is joined on four of
the nine tracks by the Delmark All-Star Band: drummer Willie “The Touch”
Hayes, B3 master Roosevelt Purifoy, guitarist Billy Flynn, and then-90
year old Bob Stroger on bass. 93-year old guitarist Jimmy Johnson, who
passed away in January, guests on the title track. On the remaining
tracks, Ramirez teams with an equally powerful band: Antonio Reyes
(drums/bass), Andre Reyes, Jr. (keyboards), and Kenny Watson, Jr.
(bass), with assists from Evan Hoffman (percussion) and Shelly Bonet
(vocals) on one track each.
The title track opens the
album, with Ramirez trading guitar licks with Johnson on what would be
the veteran’s final recording. It serves as a bit of an autobiographical
tune with Ramirez realizing he’s in the big time now, playing guitar
with one of his heroes, while giving a shout-out to other influences
like Magic Sam and Lurrie Bell. It’s a really nice showcase for both
guitarists and shows that the torch has been passed from one generation
to the other. Ramirez really shines on the next track, the slow burner
“I Saw It Coming,” both vocally and on guitar. Purifoy’s B3 backing is
exquisite as well.
The All-Stars wrap up their
portion of the album on the next two tracks, both covers. Ramirez and
Flynn work their guitar magic on Eddie Taylor’s classic, “Bad Boy,”
powered by a rough-and-tumble Magic Slim-like groove. An understated
version of Magic Sam’s “My Love Is Your Love” serves as a perfect
vehicle for Ramirez as a guitarist and a vocalist.
The second half of the album
is equally potent, consisting of six Ramirez originals (three co-written
with Bonet). The aforementioned “Whatever She Wants” is an excellent
soul/blues ballad that has already earned a lot of attention from blues
fans. “Here In The Delta” is another ballad which captures the heat and
humidity of a Delta summer day with Ramirez’s anguished vocal and
shimmering fretwork, and on “Forbidden Funk,” Ramirez’s guitar captures
Albert Collins’ ringing tone as Andre Reyes, Jr.’s sparkling work on B3
really packs a punch.
“Are We Really Different” has
a real Latin flavor with English and Spanish lyrics and a definite
Santana vibe, especially during the final third of the song. “Gotta Let
You Go” is a dramatic ballad that covers the end of a relationship, and
Ramirez’s simmering vocal and guitar slowly let the tension build. The
album closer, “After All This Time,” finds Ramirez ruminating on
recovering from the events of the past two years, with Bonet adding
powerful vocal support as the song concludes, backed by Ramirez’s
stinging guitar. A moving conclusion to a wonderful album.
Major League Blues is
a most appropriate title for this marvelous work. Jose Ramirez is
definitely in the Big Leagues now and it looks like he’s going to be
there for a very long time. Blues fans will be singing the praises of
this album for a long time.
--- Graham Clarke