Self release [Release date 12.06.20]
American based Costa Rica’s blues artist José Ramirez calls himself an interpreter of soulful blues. The aptly titled ’Here I Come’ can equally be seen as a statement of intent and announces his own considerable abilities.
He’s a good songwriter, a decent vocalist and a tasteful guitarist from the less is more school. He fuses retro sounds with a contemporary mix of styles, rooted in soul blues, but stretching to funky elements and old school r&b.
As a result ‘Here I Come’ is a confident re-statement of the blues in the capable hands of a new generation player. He’s a confident young band leader who knows what he wants and he’s backed by some fine band interplay.
Perhaps all that is missing is a couple of memorable songs that would push the project up a notch from the heartfelt and dutiful to the inspirational. Given that José is still a young blues practitioner, this album can be filed under very promising and certainly worth purchasing.
‘Here I Come’ could easily have been titled ‘The Mentor And His Student’, as Costa Rica’s “Son of the Blues” hands over the production duties to the Texas blues master Anson Funderburgh.
Recorded in Austen Texas, with an ‘A’ team of players, José sets himself the ambitious task of bringing fresh impetus to a well worn blues template on 9 self penned outings and 2 covers.
The fact that he pulls it all off with plenty to spare is wholly due to his inherent love of the genre and his subtle guitar playing abilities, born of intuitive note selection and an aching tonal clarity.
Funderburgh is an intuitive presence who let’s everything percolate and breathe and also plays on 2 tracks to bring out the best of his young charge.
For his part José Ramirez is a nascent die-in-the-woods blues man who has grasped this opportunity to record with both hands, as he pours his heart and soul into his songs. He tops it all with a heartfelt vocal and plenty of tonal variety which provides him with a de facto extension of his narratives.
Blues fans will doubtless point to the influences ranging from Ronnie Earl’s deft touch, to Anson’s fat sound, but right at the core of it all is José Ramirez, a young blues guitarist with a soulful bent who draws on his heroes to forge his own style with real feel.
He’s like a musical conduit, who lets the music flow through him like a life force, as it hovers over some intricate dynamics that offers us the key to his own personalised blues.
He’s never in a hurry, and rarely wastes a note. He builds layered solos in perfect synchronicity with his band to evoke meaningful lyrics and several memorable musical moments.
Better till, he consistently aims for a working equilibrium born of knowing when to hang back, when to groove and when to subtly take things up.
Each track offers us a different, but related aspect of a blues artist who relies on the full spectrum of his own experiences to colour his blues palette.
He opens with the sultry shuffled title track featuring Jimmy Pugh on piano. He also adds an emotional inflection to his vocal to bring just enough gravitas to a workaday shuffle that levers us into a real blues album.
Pugh is an integral part of the album both as a soloist and accompanist. In the first part of the album he’s busy weaving his piano parts round Jose’ intricate songs, while in the second he fattens the sound with a brooding Hammond organ.
But it’s his distinctive piano lines that lead us into a slow blues cover of T-Bone Walker’s ‘I Miss You Baby’ on which Ramirez’s phrasing draws us into a song that is fleshed out with a big horn arrangement and Pugh’s rolling piano. A combination of a confident vocal on a big horn arrangement finds everything in place, all topped by the sweetest tone jazzy solo, suggesting the blues is in safe hands.
There’s a New Orleans oeuvre on the impressive ‘Gasoline & Matches’, as Anson Funderburgh adds his own tremulous tone over some significant horn stabs and a low baritone.
Ramirez never delivers his lines with anything less than passion and total commitment, summarised by the line: “Gasoline & matches baby, the fire was worthwhile.”
In truth, he has a limited but emotive vocal style – listen to the way his guitar line cleverly extends his functional vocal on the dreamy cover of Robert Johnson’s ‘Travelling Riverside Blues’ – but he always does enough to get inside the song.
Pugh further takes on the role of an extravagant Latino soloist with a Cuban style piano flourish to bring welcome contrast on the slow drifting feel of ‘One Woman Man’. He also adds a repeated and very effective motif on the celebratory Memphis soul influenced ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’.
The latter is juxtaposed by a deep shuffle ‘Three Years’ which makes a bigger impact that it might otherwise have done because of some neat sequencing.
A combination of whispered vocals and deep curling tones and Pugh’s eloquent organ work serves to beef up the tension. Ramirez interweaves his playing with Anson Funderburgh’s second appearance on the album, backed by an intuitive rhythm section of bassist Nate Rowe and Wes Star.
The cool Texas horns feature on the soulful ballad ‘As You Can See’ and the subtle lilting funk of ‘Waiting For Your Call. The latter is glued together by Pugh’s linear organ line which gives Ramirez room to deliver a shrill toned solo. Only a too eager fade denudes the song of its full horn-led potential.
The album’s overall emphasis on soul and old school R&B means Ramirez is handily positioned to tap into current soul blues revival, while introducing himself as a new player on the blues scene.
By the time of the album’s hip shuffling finale ‘Stop Teasing Me’ – beautifully lifted by some interwoven lead and rhythm guitar – he has squeezed every last nuance from his lyrics and subtle tone inflections.
Pugh adds one final organ flourish to push the album towards a fluid conclusion. Ramirez eschews the possibility of a final solo, as if to suggest he’s already given all he has to say.
‘Here I Come’ is a slice of cool retro blues that taps into contemporary reappraisal of soulful blues. There’s intricate sonic detail, relationship lyrics, heartfelt vocals and deeply felt solos framed by a band who always support the song while still pushing their leader to greater, albeit subtle heights. ‘Here I Come’ is the blues, the whole blues and nothing but the blues. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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