Blues Bytes

Pick Hit

March/April 2022

Jose Ramirez
Major League Blues
Delmark Records

Jose Ramirez

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


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