Blues Bytes

Surprise

May 2020

Jose Ramirez
Here I Come

CD Baby

Jose Ramirez

I've been waiting this month for a new album to really, really grab me.

Here it is! 

My new favorite blues album comes from a  very unlikely source, a relative unknown cat from a place in the world not really known for producing blues artists. Jose Ramirez had his fling with fame earlier this year when the native of Costa Rica, representing the D.C. Blues Society, finished second in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

It sure didn't take Ramirez long to capitalize on his IBC showing as the guitarist/vocalist teamed up with Anson Funderburgh and some stellar backing musicians in a studio in Austin to produce the very outstanding independent release, Here I Come. Ramirez capably covers a lot of different blues styles on the 11 cuts here, segueing seamlessly from straight blues, horn-driven soul and New Orleans funky stuff, as well as other various influences. For a young dude in just his early 30s, Ramirez also shows a knack for creative songwriting, having composed nine of the 11 songs.

Ramirez opens with an autobiographical blues shuffle, "Here I Come," on which he introduces himself to the listener by identifying his major blues influences. We get the first inkling that keyboardist Jim Pugh (best known by for his 25 years with The Robert Cray Band) is going to be the other highlight of this album as he plays some extremely hot piano on this one. "I Miss You Baby," a Freddie Simon composition, follows, a nice slow blues with a big band sound provided by the always exemplary Texas Horns, while Ramirez shows off on guitar with a very subtle T-Bone Walker-style solo that is, quite frankly, fabulous.

The band gets funky on "Gasoline And Matches," a New Orleans-ish romp with fine piano from Pugh, big horn sound from the Texas Horns, and most notably some unbelievably smokin' guitar from both Ramirez and Funderburgh. "One Woman Man" gives Ramirez the chance to use his very nice voice to succinctly explain that he's certainly not a one woman man and thus he's hard to love. Pugh sets down a steady hypnotic beat on the piano before ending the song with a jazzy Latin outro.

"Goodbye Letter," featuring more great piano from Pugh, is a slow blues that at seven minutes and 39 seconds is the longest song on the album, but it's so good that you won't get bored by its length. Next up is a pleasant soulful tune, "The Way You Make Me Feel," with a muted trumpet solo being the highlight of this song.

Pugh switches over to the Hammond B3 to provide the foundation for the slow blues shuffle, "Three Years," with Ramirez digging deep into his soul to pour a lot of angst into his smooth, soulful voice. He also coaxes as much emotion from his guitar on a superb mid-song solo. Ramirez's voice is just as strong on "As You Can See," a slow soul number, as he begs his woman for her missing affection.

Pugh's organ playing on the very soulful "Waiting For Your Call" is outstanding, intro-ing the song with a solo that reminds me of Garth Hudson's best playing with The Band. The horns come in behind Ramirez's vocals while Pugh continues to lift what is already s a very good song to an even higher level with innovative B3 sounds. "Waiting For Your Call" is so strong and emotional that chills ran up and down my spine. Pugh keeps it up on Ramirez's version of Robert Johnson's "Traveling Riverside Blues," turning this Delta classic into something that the original artist likely couldn't have imagined (or maybe he could have?). Nice guitar work from Ramirez here, too, but again, quite a change from the original.

Here I Come closes with a strong mid-tempo blues shuffle, "Stop Teasing Me," in which Ramirez sings to an audience member who is perhaps flirting at him from the dance floor, finally threatening (or promising) to take her home with him. The subject matter of this song may or may not be based on actual incident ... only Ramirez knows for sure. Once again, Pugh tears it up on the B3.

I'd be remiss to not comment on the fantastic blues-related tattoos that Ramirez sports on both arms. You'll need to purchase the album to see them, but trust me when I say that both tats are truly creative and well-done. The man or woman responsible for the artwork on Ramirez's arms isn't credited in the liner notes, but if the Blues Foundation ever awards a KBA for "best blues tattoos" this artist will be a slam dunk winner.

Here I Come is an early candidate for the best blues album of 2020. If there's anything better coming down the chute, I can't wait to hear it. In the meantime, Here I Come gets my highest recommendation. We should be hearing a lot more from Ramirez in the future, hopefully sooner rather than later.

--- Bill Mitchell

 

 

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