David Ramirez, The Borderline, London, 7th September 2018

David Ramirez is over on a short four night tour of the UK to promote his latest album on the Thirty Tigers label, ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere.’ Playing to a fairly packed Borderline crowd it’s his first visit to London since the turn of the year when he played an intimate solo show at St Pancras Old Church.  The band open with ‘Twins’ from the current record – a downbeat lament and eulogy to the victims of the Twin Towers. It’s also a personal statement about how the climate of fear in Ramirez’s homeland has meant the loss of a version of the United States he once held dear.

Whereas the music on the  record is subject to a degree of glossy overproduction courtesy of Sam Kisserer – with shimmery synths and keyboards – that’s not a criticism that can be levelled in a live setting, the band’s musicians perfectly complementing one another. Renowned for something of a lugubrious attitude, Ramirez’s richly melodic ‘Watching From A Distance’ is a more country uptempo ballad even if it’s still a song for the broken hearted. ‘People Call Who They Want to Talk To,’ meanwhile, is like much of his material: an outwardly simple sounding song, but one that shows real insight into relationships and human behaviour. The same can be said for ‘Harder To Lie,’ a tune which exemplifies his rare skill for writing with great sensitivity and honesty – the lyrics freighted with regret about his previous relationship screw ups. After all, this is a man who once sang, “Buried underneath all the women and the booze is a man that I know is ashamed of what I choose.”

It’s far from all downbeat stuff, however, and the audience are firmly on his side: ‘Find The Light’ proving a hopeful counterweight to the negativity of the wider world. The slow-drip rhythm of ‘Time’ has an almost hypnotic feel, while ‘Telephone Lovers’ showcases his soaring tenor voice to great effect, a song which documents the travails of a long distance relationship. The song at the heart of tonight’s set is the poignant ‘Eliza Jane,’ a beautiful slice of Americana about Ramirez’s great-grandmother leaving Oklahoma during the Great Depression, heading to Oregon where she ended up playing piano in a country band.

In a particular powerful finale – and demonstrating his facility to equally cover the personal as well as the political – he comes to the front of the stage to deliver an A Capella rendition of ‘I’m Not Going Anywhere,’ a dual treatise about his refusal to accept physical death, but also a powerful and profoundly moving statement of his mixed heritage and unwillingness to succumb to the intolerance of modern America. The delivery of the song with his deep bass register was testament to his ability to silence a room with just the sheer power and range of his vocal performance.

If there was a slight quibble tonight it was in the choice of material that limited the band’s opportunity to fully cut loose. It felt somewhat akin to having a top of the range sports car that was motoring along in second gear for a large part of the show. But live, David Ramirez is still a unique experience and his willingness to get close to his audience was demonstrated when he invited the assembled throng to the neighbouring pub on conclusion of the gig. He knows what it’s like to love and to lose and his ability to powerfully express these emotions, while also making some insightful political statements, makes him a compelling live performer.

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Ian MacDonald

Look out for the album Glorietta by Glorietta, David Ramirez is a member of the band.