“I may as well get in his good graces before I start getting blasphemous”, says David Ramirez as he pauses to reflect on the intimate surroundings of St Pancras Old Church towards the beginning of his set tonight. Ramirez is playing completely solo on his current tour although he pauses to reflect at one point on how playing with the compatriots in his regular band has meant his music is tending to evolve in a more rock ‘n’ roll direction. As for the evening, the environment is perfectly suited to his more intimately personal style of song writing, with Ramirez on acoustic guitar throughout.
It’s a performance drawn largely from his last three albums, Apologies, Fables, and his latest, We’re Not Going Anywhere, with an occasional smattering of songs from his two other EPs. It was the Fables album in 2015 that first brought Ramirez to wider attention, and this was aided in no small part by the heightened exposure of being signed to the Thirty Tigers label, the home also of fellow musical luminaries such as Jason Isbell and Sam Outlaw.
On conclusion of his opening song, Find the Light, Ramirez jokes, “I don’t think I’ve ever opened a set with a hopeful song.” This is met with chuckles all round, and caused me to reflect on a comment from my usual gig going compatriot that “he’s not exactly a happy soul, is he?” So it’s a pleasant surprise to report that should David Ramirez’s career ever end up in the musical doldrums that a future in stand-up comedy would prove a suitable alternative, his gentle, wry between-song humour leaving some of the assembled throng in fits of laughter for the duration of his 90 minute set tonight.
His sound is not dissimilar at times to John Fulbright – less outright country – more rock and roots. If there are times when he may be somewhat guilty of over-emoting on numbers like Telephone Lovers, there are also songs of real quality such as the deeply affecting Shoeboxes, a haunting and moving song about a lost first love, “..it kills me to remember and it kills me to forget.”He’s also capable of getting political, as well as intensely personal, particularly on the elegiac Twins, his reflections on being an 18 year old when the attacks on the Twin towers were committed on 9/11. Even without a backing band Ramirez is fully capable of ratcheting things up a notch on more rousing tunes such as The Hard Way – “But getting drunk like a country singer won’t get you a ring on a pretty finger” – and the bluesy sounding, Wandering Man.
The closing song from the latest album is the one he chooses to bow out with tonight, I’m Not Going Anywhere, and Ramirez has a fine story with which to introduce this, essentially a passionate declamation of his refusal to accept that death means the end, entirely appropriate for the spiritual medium in which tonight’s gig is conducted. It also feels like something akin to a statement of his half Mexican, half American heritage and a refusal to accept he doesn’t have a legitimate part to play in US society, regardless of the recent election outcome.
If this evening’s performance is typical, David Ramirez gave the impression he’d show the same level of commitment to an audience – irrespective of whether he was playing to 5 or 5,000 people – which is to his huge credit. The passion he puts into his performance, and the clear affection with which he holds his backing band – “my closest friends” – means his tour with a full band this August is a must see.