Jason Isbell gets too much credit these days. That’s not to say the constant stream of praise bestowed upon Americana’s golden boy isn’t well deserved, but ideally artists like Isbell should serve as a rabbit hole. Many people don’t realize that there are other songwriters writing equally great songs in a similar vein. One of those is David Ramirez. The Austin, Texas-based singer-songwriter has been toiling away for a decade, crafting his own style of gritty and poignant roots rock. Along the way his albums have received acclaim, but he has yet to explode on the larger scene like some of his peers. His latest full-length album We’re Not Going Anywhere should change that.
If you’ve listened to Ramirez before, the first thing that will hit you is the use of electronic effects throughout We’re Not Going Anywhere. These hardly diminish his alt-country sound but they do put him on a path that feels similar to the likes of acts like Ryan Adams and the War On Drugs, both of whom fully embrace the synth these days. If anything, the presence of 80s synths and edgier guitar riffs adds a sense of urgency to the music, which is good considering that Ramirez is trafficking in some heavy duty material – politics, broken relationships, substance abuse – throughout the album. Opening track “Twins” features a somber synth as Ramirez questions “where were you when we lost the twins” before later crooning “goodbye America”, seemingly alluding to attacks of September 11th and setting the tone for much of the album. Later on with “Stone Age” he taps into a Neil Young vein and passionately touches on the backwards path of the country and deep divides that separate his fellow Americans over a haunting organ line.
While America’s fucked up mental state is unavoidable for Ramirez, so are love songs. “Watching From a Distance”, the confessional country tune “Good Heart”, and “Telephone Lovers” all seem to find him questioning his approach to relationships and where he went wrong, whether from staying away or staying drunk for too damn long. One of the standouts is “Time”, a song about being broken down and bored brought to life with a pulsing synth, twangy guitar, and a dry brooding vocal delivery reminiscent of The National’s Matt Berninger. He conjures similar sounds with the morose and minimal “Villian”.
It should come as little surprise that Ramirez and his band recorded this album in the dead of winter in a farmhouse in rural Maine, as there is a sparse, reflective lonerism to the lyrics and instrumentation. The result is an album that is refreshingly experimental, capturing a sharp lyricist who isn’t afraid to speak his mind and take his music into unchartered territory. Ramirez has long been a respected figure amongst those in the know, but We’re Not Going Anywhere establishes him as a forceful troubadour well deserving of the same big audiences of his peers.