Tyler Ramsey has been pursuing his solo career now for long enough and with sufficient rigour for us to approach his music without any thoughts of his previous band. The new covers EP ‘Found A Picture Of You’, is his fifth solo release and as far removed from his previous equine related activity than he has ever been. The record comes with a very clear philosophy of its own; Ramsey himself explaining that the project was “purely for fun” and that he wanted to avoid anything overwrought in bringing these songs together in a way that acknowledges the impact they have had on him over the years.
Covers records can be a troublesome beast though. For someone who is recognised as a proficient songwriter in their own right, as Ramsey is, filling a record with other people’s songs can’t help but raise questions of motivation and purpose. Here the motivation offered is a desire to build on the spirit and energy experienced when performing the songs of others during his live sets. As well as other people’s songs he also fills this record other people, including Carl Broemel, Thad Cockrel, Annie Williams, and his daughter Sylvie.
With ‘Found A Picture Of You’ Ramsey has managed to craft a natural sounding, even guileless record full of simple pleasures. This is quite an achievement with the array of friends popping in and out of proceedings but each of these visitors is astutely tailored to their moment, giving a carefully constructed record. That all of this is done without losing the spontaneity or freshness which is all that stops some of the renditions almost drifting into mundanity is credit to Ramsey and former Band of Horses compadre Bill Reynolds who produced the record at his at Fleetwood Shack studio in Nashville.
There is in fact one Ramsey original on the record a lighter and folkier rework of 2011 song ‘1,000 Black Birds’. This apart, all the songs were either written or brought to prominence by female artists. In choosing the songs for the EP Ramsey was vigilant in finding songs that resonate with him directly, noting that “a lot of the records in my collection that have really had an impact on my musical path have been female artists.”
Perhaps the best reflection of what Ramsey is about with this project is the opener; his version of the Innocence Mission’s mellifluous ‘Tomorrow on the Runway’. He slows it down and strips out the ‘unnecessary elements’ of what is already a pretty unvarnished song. We are left with a hushed and haunting tale of yearning that highlights the sheer beauty of Karen Peris’s writing, whilst adding an aura of vulnerability that lifts this version to another level. Knocks Sam Beam’s take into a cocked hat too.
That nothing else which follows gets near to matching the majesty of ‘Tomorrow on the Runway’ is a disappointment but not, perhaps, entirely unexpected. Ramsey is, quite rightly, determined to make each song his own and manages to do so, for the most part by lightening the load of the originals and paring them down to their simple basics. It works OK on Jennie Lowe Stearns’ ‘When You Go’ but who’d have thought it was possible to miss the squelchy synths on Cindy Lauper’s reading of Jules Shear’s ‘All Through the Night’ and the deconstruction of ‘Back on the Chain Gang’, well let’s just say the song wasn’t built for that.
Ramsay’s finger-picked guitar remains impeccable throughout and its juxtaposition with the atmospheric shards of Billy Alletzhauser’s electric on ‘Shake Shugaree’ is a small delight. For the most part though the music remains unadorned and uncluttered, emphasising the reflective almost absorbed feel of the record. The songs chosen for ‘Found A Picture Of You’ are very personal and while there is evidently a deep connection between performer(s) and songs here this doesn’t necessarily transfer to the listener. We can sense the connections and joy present when the performances were created but they don’t really move us in the same way.