HERE I COME
Originally from Costa Rica, singer-guitarist-songwriter Jose Ramirez has been making a name for himself in the Blues World. Residing in the Washington, DC area recently, he won the 2019 DC Blues Society's Battle of the Bands. Representing the DC Blues Society, he competed in the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge, where he finished second overall, an impressive achievement. Ramirez was poised to start touring in support of his debut album "Here I Come," when the Covid-19 pandemic put a wrench in his plans. He has relocated to Florida to ride the pandemic out, and eventually resume his performing career.
The pandemic may have suspended his live performances, but thankfully not prevented the release of this new recording. Ramirez teamed up with Anson Funderburgh, who produced this disc that was recorded in Austin, Texas. Funderburgh guests on two of the 11 songs. Others playing on this recording are Jim Pugh on piano and organ, drummer Wes Starr, bassist Nate Rowe, and the legendary Texas Horns.
Ramirez wrote nine of the eleven songs, and he impresses immediately with the opening title track, a relaxed walking tempo shuffle as he sings about some of his influences and inspirations as he pushes on to reach his musical goals and keep the blues alive. It is refreshing to hear such a gifted singer and guitarist rooted in straight-ahead blues. Listening to his vocals, one would not guess that English is not his first language, but even more impressive is his phrasing and vocal dynamics. One might suggest a cross between Floyd Dixon and Fenton Robinson as a rough analogy. His guitar playing is also old-school, with touches of T-Bone Walker as well as B.B. King.
Ramirez can croon in his interpretation of a lesser-known T-Bone Walker recording, "I Miss You Baby," or get down and funky on "Gasoline and Matches," where he shares guitar duties with Funderburgh. There is a burly baritone sax solo on the last number that I presume is from Kaz Kazanoff. This latter number also displays his songwriting craftsmanship. "One Woman Man," where Ramirez sings that he is not looking for love and is not a one-woman man. It features a searing guitar solo and an inspired piano solo by Pugh to close this performance. From straight blue shuffles, Ramirez also delivers a bit of solid soul with "The Way You Make Me Feel," a track that evokes Tyrone Davis. Again Pugh stands out with his comping behind an excellent vocal. Often Robert Johnson covers are forgettable, but Ramirez places his stamp on this number by transforming "Traveling Riverside Blues" with a reggae groove. Pugh's organ and the crack rhythm section lay the foundation for his piercing guitar.
"Here I Come" is not merely an impressive debut of a promising artist. Anson Funderburgh's top-flight production and a fabulous studio band provide the foundation for Jose Ramirez to showcase his gifted songwriting along with his terrific vocals and guitar playing. It is a superb recording.
Reviewed by Ron Weinstock
Ron is a longtime member of the DC Blues Society and a former editor of the Capital Blues Messenger newsletter.