Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

David Ramirez hits the singer/songwriter trifecta

July 4, 2011

There’s three basic parts of Damien Rice’s sound: moving songwriting, evocative lyrics and an untamed caterwaul. That occasionally grating third element is what keeps Rice’s fanbase from growing or shrinking. If there was an artist who captured the first two elements in a similar way, but toned down the roaring, I’d put big bets on that guy to be big.

I’m going to Vegas on David Ramirez.

The acoustic guitar-playing Texan’s easygoing voice can get intense, as in the climax of “Argue With Heaven,” but it never gets abrasive. You can tell David Ramirez is all-in, but he’s not reckless. That element of control makes “Argue With Heaven” a powerful, repeatable track.

Three more of the earthy, grounded tunes on his EP Strangetown follow a similar tack; “Wandering Man” is train-whistle roots rock, and while it’s not a fine song, it’s not Ramirez at his finest. That would instead be “Shoeboxes,” which incorporates gentle alt-country fingerpicking to back up his anguished voice.

It’s important to note that his emotions are contributed through tone and inflection in addition to volume. If it’s the voice that makes a songwriter, Ramirez is on the right path; he’s either spent time honing his voice to transmit what he wants or been blessed with a rare set of pipes. Probably both.

“Strange Town” calls up more Rice comparisons in mood and accompaniment, which is welcome. “I Think I Like You” is an easy-going piece that puts a lot of gravitas into that simple sentiment; in that vein, consider the weight he can assign to lyrics that have standalone dramatic import, like ruminations over mementos and memories of a lost love on “Shoeboxes.”

David Ramirez has the trifecta going for him: engaging music, mesmerizing vocals and poignant lyrics. If you’re a fan of singer/songwriters, Ramirez is in your future, whether right now or when he inevitably gets a larger following. He’s going to hit The Blue Door in OKC Friday night. If I wasn’t playing a show, I’d be there.

Listen to and download “Shoeboxes.”

"Kid stuff" that can be enjoyed by all

December 16, 2009

I am twenty-one years old, but the Gettin’ Funky with the Sugar Free Allstars DVD definitely made me feel twenty-one years young. And while it is meant for kids, I must admit that I highly enjoyed this live performance, recorded by the Oklahoman Sugar Free Allstars at the City Arts Center in Oklahoma City.

The Allstars consist of Chris “Boom!” Wiser on organ and vocals, and Rob “Dr. Rock” Martin on the drums. On the Hammond B-3, Chris plays bumping bass lines in addition to his soul and gospel influenced melodies. Dr. Rock also provides backup vocals, which are especially funny and effective in “Poppy and Meemaw,” a song about grandparents and their names. (Mine are Grammy and Pop-pop.) With Chris’ goofy vocals and funny questions, and Dr. Rock’s stoic one-word answers, the duo have great stage presence. But the kids probably just call this “fun,” and they’re right.

The DVD starts with “Banana Pudding,” which got me giggling (and hungry) right away. In this song and throughout the rest, Chris has the kids do something participatory. For example, in “Bathtub Boy,” there’s a lather up/scrub it down/rinse it off acting sequence that was, I mean seemed, fun. Between each of the seven songs, there’s a funny fast-forwarded interlude of Chris and Dr. Rock messing around in the arts center, and/or an interview with a group of kids. The kids are unintentionally hilarious, as kids often are. I re-watched a part where a little girl under two utters a nasally and very straight-faced “meow” in a ball pit.

Gettin’ Funky with the Sugar Free Allstars is great not only because kids would adore it, but also because the music Chris and Dr. Rock play is fun and danceable without being watered-down or annoying for adults to listen to. The lyrics are certainly ridiculous, as they should be, but these songs are still solid and funky.

The soundtrack is available as a free download with purchase of the DVD. The Sugar Free Allstars have also released albums for adults, all of which are available on their website.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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