David Ramirez, Fables

David Ramirez, <i>Fables</i>

I wasn’t sure what to make of David Ramirez’s latest full-length, Fables, not at first. I was expecting something more like the fiery Rooster, or maybe the downtrodden reconciliation of Apologies, but what I heard instead was a slate of (mostly) low-key, almost fragile songs that were slow-moving to the point of somnolence at times. I didn’t feel let down, not exactly, but I didn’t feel entirely satisfied, either.

The truth is, though, that Fables takes some patience. The first half or so of the album is definitely quiet and slow, to be sure, but if you slow yourself down and get yourself somewhere quiet so you can listen to those words, to that rough-edged, Johnny Cash-meets-Springsteen baritone, there’s a reward in there, trust me.

See, where Apologies felt like Ramirez was crawling back onto his feet after years spent in thrall to the bottle and the road, making amends for what he’d done to those around him, and The Rooster felt like a triumphant declaration of his renewed purpose, Fables is the sound of a man taking a step back and coming to grips with some uncomfortable truths, some things he had hoped he’d put behind him. It’s an album about honesty, first and foremost, and honesty ain’t easy.

While the album kicks off with the warm, rootsy haze of “Communion,” where Ramirez first realizes that he’s bounced from the straight-and-narrow to the rougher side all of his life, it’s “Harder to Lie” that provides the album’s focus. It’s delicate and confessional, with Ramirez taking a long, hard look at himself and realizing he’s got to come clean or things won’t ever work.

“Rock and a Hard Place,” which is folky and jangly and growly in the best way possible, takes a similar tack, with the songwriter admitting he’s learned a lot from the bad situations he’s found himself in, and “On Your Side” is pleading and desperate, with a wonderful moment at the end when Ramirez literally puts down his guitar and leaves the room.

Which may be a bit of a clue, actually, to the eventual destination he’s heading for. On several songs, Ramirez seems to come to the conclusion that the life he’s been living these past years, the life of the road-worn traveling troubadour, maybe isn’t what he wants to do anymore. It comes up first on “New Way of Living,” a glimpse at the inner workings of the mind of a songwriter in our modern-day, EDM-/download-obsessed America, with Ramirez wondering if maybe it isn’t time to leave the road and find a new way to make ends meet.

Then there’s “Hold On,” a raw and ripped wide-open, a Springsteenian blast of roots-rock where he looks around and realizes he doesn’t hit into either of the worlds he inhabits, too rough for church but too churchy for the barstool. And Fables closes out with “Ball and Chain,” a powerful, powerful track that sure makes it sound like the guy wants to step back out of the spotlight, as he declares, “I refuse to be / letters on a marquee / I refuse to be / buried on the bandstand.”

The reason why, pointed to in “Harder to Lie,” becomes clearer still on “How Do You Get ‘Em Back,” easily the best song on here and one of the best I’ve heard so far this year. Midway through Fables, it explodes out of the speakers in the first moment of burning, roaring passion that Ramirez is willing to let slip through, and there’s a beautiful, vulnerable desperation to it as he asks how to win back someone’s love once they’ve told you it’s the last time.

Fables may not hit as immediately as Ramirez’s earlier releases, but it definitely hits. How could it not, after all? This is the sound of a man who’s come to a crossroads in his life, one where he has to decide between The Road and playing music every night to strangers and staying home with the one he loves; between doing what he loves and being with who he loves. It doesn’t get more poignant than that.

(Feature photo by Greg Giannukos.)

[David Ramirez is playing 9/11/15 at Walter’s, along with Carson McHone.]
(Sweetworld Records; Thirty Tigers -- http://www.thirtytigers.com/; David Ramirez -- http://davidramirezmusic.com/; David Ramirez (Facebook) -- https://www.facebook.com/davidramirezaustin; David Ramirez (Twitter) -- https://twitter.com/ramirezdavid; David Ramirez (YouTube) -- https://www.youtube.com/user/davidramireztunes)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Friday, September 11th, 2015. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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