Sometimes the music chooses an artist. It can arrive in the form of a sound heard in the middle of silence, or maybe a certain guitar is ready to share its secrets. Either way, the spirit world is involved and there is no way to stop it.
Bo Ramsey is used to an outside world invading his inner world with deep messages and mesmerizing songs. As it came time for Ramsey to record again, an idea that had been hanging around would not be denied: an instrumental album. Of course, it has to be a little more convoluted than that. “We have a big kitchen in our house, and I’m always playing guitar in there,” Ramsey says. “There always seems to be two or three amps in there too. One day last fall I was on the road and swung into a guitar store in the Twin Cities and on a stand sitting on top of an amplifier was an old Harmony electric guitar. Just yelling on me.”
That Harmony “yelling” was the birth of Bo Ramsey’s irresistible new album WILDWOOD CALLING. The musician, who was born and raised in Burlington, Iowa, and has lived in Iowa City the past few decades, has carved out a unique career for 40 years. And it shows not one sign of slowing down. He has been involved in enough high-profile and low-down endeavors to have become somewhat of a legend, but a legend who still hides from the spotlights and leans away from stardom. Maybe that’s because Ramsey has mystifyingly maintained a devotion to the music side of the music business, and lets everything else fall by the side. Naturally, an all-instrumental album was just a matter of time.
After buying the Harmony guitar, a series of inspirations began to land. First were some musical ideas that got recorded on Ramsey’s phone, and then a band of like-minded musicians began to converge, and get mixed and matched. Finally drummer JT Bates and bassist Marty Christensen found themselves together in Bo Ramsey’s kitchen with engineer Adam Krinsky. Of course, it had to be in the kitchen because that’s where the idea was born and that’s where it had to come to life. Still, the emotional side of the music had to emerge before “the keepers” started being recorded. That is exactly what happened in the two days the players were together in that Iowa kitchen. With Alex Ramsey chiming in on three tracks by way of Minnesota, adding lush living-room piano and perfectly hushed basement keyboards.
It only takes a few seconds of listening to realize something completely off the grid has been captured on WILDWOOD CALLING. Maybe that’s because there’s as much silence as there is sound. Musical guru Miles Davis once famously said that it is “what isn’t played” that is really at the heart of so much timeless music, and that is the secret to Ramsey’s new opus. It is a sound that could probably only hail from the vast heartland of America, a place that hasn’t been completely cluttered with buildings, cars and people. There is so much breathing room on these songs that it feels just like a new life has just been born.
For those who might recognize Bo Ramsey by his association with artists like Lucinda Williams, Greg Brown, Kevin Gordon, Pieta Brown, Charlie Parr and others, his new music is the perfect introduction to someone who always listens and plays with his own sonic vision in full motion . So not surprisingly, the list of Ramsey’s accolades is long: including Grammy-Award Winning Guitar Player, 2 Time Grammy Nominated Producer, Iowa Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and Iowa Blues Hall of Famer. And if there were other Iowa halls of fame he would no doubt be in them too. But above all, Ramsey is a proud card-carrying member of his own hall of fame, which is the one where he chases the sounds in his head and his heart. He is always looking for a way to wrestle them into a recording so he can share that love of music with friends and strangers alike. WILDWOOD CALLING is an album for the ages, and the perfect calling card for anyone with an interest in hearing the past, the present and the future rolled into one. Long may Bo Ramsey run.
- Bill Bentley. July 2016.