Album Reviews

Bo Ramsey

Wildwood Calling

Artist:     Bo Ramsey

Album:     Wildwood Calling

Label:     Self-Released

Release Date:     08/02/2016

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Lucinda Williams has always credited Bo Ramsey for teaching her about the value of spaces in music.  Others like Bill Frisell and Miles Davis are huge proponents of spaces in the music.  You’ve probably heard the long held adage by bluesmen – “it’s not how many notes you play, it’s playing the right notes that matters.”  Bo Ramsey has his own immediately identifiable, resonating, atmospheric guitar technique that values silence as much as sound.  If you have not heard him alone you have likely heard him backing Greg Brown, Lucinda Williams, Kevin Gordon,  his offspring the Pines, and family members Pieta Brown and Iris DeMent.  More recently he added his unique guitar sound to Jeffrey Foucault’s wonderful album Salt As Wolves.  Eminently comfortable in his role as sideman, it is a rare event when Ramsey issues a solo album.  This is his first since 2008.

Ramsey explains how the album came about. “We have a big kitchen in our house, and I’m always playing guitar in there,” Ramsey says. “There always seems to be two or three amps in there, too. One day last fall I was on the road and swung into a guitar store in the Twin Cities and on a stand sitting on top of an amplifier was an old Harmony electric guitar. Just yelling on me.” After buying the Harmony guitar, Ramsey recorded musical ideas on his phone and soon thereafter drummer JT Bates and bassist Marty Christensen found themselves together in Bo Ramsey’s kitchen with engineer Adam Krinsky. Of course it had to be in the kitchen because that is where the idea was born.  As an aside, I always remember Thelonius Monk saying that all good musical ideas are born in the kitchen.  Anyway, the three players recorded for two days in Ramsey’s Iowa City kitchen with son Alex Ramsey (the Pines) contributing   select tracks by way of Minnesota, adding sparkling piano (“Rise”, “Across the Field”, “Movin’ On”) and ethereal keyboards.  (“Skylight”).

This project, an instrumental album, was one that Bo had wanted to do for some time.  Those familiar with Ramsey will recognize his distinctive sound within the first few notes.  As writer Bill Bentley of the Morton Report says, “It is a sound that could probably only come from the vast heartland of America, a place that hasn’t been completely cluttered with buildings, cars and people. There is so much breathing room on these songs that it feels just like a new life has just been born.”  The thirteen selections are around 3 minutes or less.  The bookends “Fly On (Part 2)” and “Fly On (Part 1) are dedicated to Prince.  The unconventional Ramsey starts with Part 2 and ends with Part 1. Ramsey tends toward the bluesy side and although it is usually more subtle than forceful, “Jump n Run” is straight ahead blues. Many of these tunes will transport you to another place or maybe many places in your head. Put your headphones on. You’re in for a treat!

– Jim Hynes

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