Fresh off his second-place finish in the 2020 International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis, Costa Rican native and now Florida resident Jose Ramirez teamed with guitar legend and highly sought producer Anson Funderburgh to record this exciting debut, Here I Come, a mix of blues, soul, and R&B. At the IBC Ramirez was representing The D.C Blues Society but he’s since moved south. For this project, the setting was Austin where Funderburgh assembled top-shelf talent such as Jim Pugh (keyboards), Wes Starr (drums), Nate Rowe (bass), and The Texas Horns. Funderburgh joins on two tracks.
Guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Ramirez has already garnered praise from major blues artists and the media, with the BBC proclaiming, “The most soulful and heartfelt blues since Robert Cray burst on the scene all those years ago.” To these ears, that’s a bit of hyperbole but there’s no denying that Ramirez makes a strong impression. These are good, solid songs, superbly arranged and delivered with terrific support from this studio cast. Ramirez plays his guitar with a robust tone, the right phrasing, and sings like a veteran that belies his early thirties age. Like the best guitarists, he’s not out to generate a machine-gun flurry of notes but instead the right ones, some that he sustains just beautifully.
Nine of the eleven cuts are originals with T-Bone Walker’s “I Miss You Baby” and Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” as the two covers. He opens with the title track namedropping his heroes along the way. The horns bathe the simmering “I Miss You Baby” showcasing Ramirez’s soulful vocals. Funderburgh’s signature icy tone imbues the hot “Gasoline and Matches.” That Robert Cray comparison seems appropriate for the standout “One Woman Man” which features Ramirez’s searing guitar as Pugh fills with the B3, even sneaking in a tribute to Cuban piano legend, Chucho Valdes, in his piano outro. Coincidentally, Pugh was Cray’s keyboardist for a couple of decades.
The epic slow-burner “Goodbye Letter” also features sterling piano work from Pugh as Ramirez delivers a deeply passionate vocal, the strongest among many fine ones on the album. The horns return to deliver the Memphis soul styled “The Way You Make Me Feel” before we plunge into another deep burning shuffle “Three Long Years” where Funderburgh again lends his axe. The horns help build the intensity in the soul ballad, “As You Can See,” another stunning vocal performance by Ramirez. Pugh’s Swirling B3 is the bedrock for the Hi Records R&B smoothie “Waiting for Your Call.”
Perhaps no blues artist has been covered as much as Robert Johnson has, with many artists giving his tunes almost unrecognizable interpretations. Ramirez steps in by slowing done the tempo and infusing “Traveling Riverside Blues” with funk, delivering it far differently than Clapton, for example. He closes in much the way he kicked off the album with another driving Texas-style blues in “Stop Teasing Me.”
Comparisons aside, Ramirez is the real deal, bringing us as an impressive blues debut that we’ve heard in recent memory.