Deftly mixing youthful passion and mature composure, Jose Ramirez leads an all-star band through self-penned blues numbers on his debut, Here I Come. As winner of the 2nd Place Band at The 2020 International Blues Challenge, the expectations are high and they are mostly met. Stellar technique, a deep understanding of music, and interesting, original compositions create a foundation from which Ramirez musically elaborates, but the facets that separate the album from the rest of the crowd are its nuance and timelessness. Ramirez picks quality over quantity, and this simple choice helps to create a classic feel that never sounds stale.
The supporting cast, featuring Jim Pugh (keys), Wes Starr (Drums), and Nate Rowe (bass), mesh seamlessly with their leader, both in style and mindset. Ramirez maximizes their abilities by simply giving them space in which to operate. He doesn’t monopolize the mix, which makes his voice and guitar that much more resonant when it becomes the focus. Sticking to character, his voice is rich and breathy as opposed to brassy and overpowering. He plays guitar with fiery precision, but he can quickly slide into languid, soulful passages as well. Notes are considered and conserved. For a relatively young musician, Ramirez already knows how less can be more.
“Here I Come” bursts open with Pugh’s jangly piano and a sharp stab of guitar. The band creates a warm, full-bodied sound while Ramirez and Pugh trade fills and instrumental breaks in a manner that is revisited throughout the album. The Texas Horns immediately make their presence felt on the slower, soulful “I Miss You Baby.” The rhythm section of Starr and Rowe adopts the spartan approach of Ramirez, which allows his vocals to shine, and a tinge of reverb on the guitar solo shifts the coloring just a bit without being distracting.
Pugh’s haunting, staccato piano fits perfectly with Ramirez’s cautionary message of “One Woman Man.” The bass and keys propel the song forward and work well against the vocal/guitar call and response that punctuate the verses. With varying speed and intensity, the jazzy outro by Pugh makes this an interesting song and one of the album’s best. “Goodbye Letter” is the mirrored opposite of “One Woman Man” in terms of subject matter, and Ramirez shows he can also play an excellent supporting role as Pugh takes the instrumental lead. “Three Years” might be the best track of the set. Its tone is thick and heavy, and both the organ and guitar solos are album highlights.
The treatment of Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” stays true to the ethos of Here I Come with its stripped down approach. Where most covers of this classic opt for“faster, Ramirez chooses slower. Piercing guitar fills and an ending segment that differs greatly from the song’s body make this imaginative track a great example of Ramirez’s creativity.
Here I Come doesn’t reinvent the genre or rupture any eardrums. Its greatness lies in its high-quality writing, playing, and that the individual tracks, and the album as a whole, can be relistened to with different foci, resulting in a different listening experience. Attention can be narrowed to Ramirez on one listen, the rhythm tandem on another, and even The Texas Horns on another still. The set gets better with each listen as the nuanced playing becomes more and more apparent and enjoyable. Jose Ramirez arrives highly-touted and with high praise. His first album does not disappoint.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Here I Come
– One Woman Man
– Three Years
– Traveling Riverside Blues
The Big Hit
– Three Years