In 1968, when London Observer music critic Tony Palmer first listened to The Beatles’ White Album, did he know from the start it would number among the consummate records of that century? He reported that, with the release of the double album, the global listening audience would “surely see the last vestiges of cultural snobbery and bourgeois prejudice swept away in a deluge of joyful music making, which only the ignorant will not hear and only the deaf will not acknowledge.”
While local indie artist Tyler Ramsey isn’t likely to stir critics to ardent cries of universal betterment and goodwill toward men (40 years later we’re a more cynical and less revelatory culture), his new CD, A Long Dream About Swimming Across the Sea (Echo Mountain, 2008) is—as iconic albums tend to be—the right collection of songs at exactly the right time.
After years of paying his dues as a solo performer, as a backup player in countless local projects (DrugMoney, Jr. James & the Late Guitar, Wayne Robbins & the Hellsayers and Seth Kauffman’s Tropical Disease among them) and as a low-key recording artist, Ramsey landed a prime spot this year opening for rising stars Band of Horses. And then, just as he was wondering exactly how he’d be able to afford to tour with the Charleston, S.C.-based alt-emo group, they went ahead and hired him on as their guitarist, too.
Somehow, Ramsey picked this moment to drop what may well be the best local recording made to date. It’s come in the middle of his travels across the United States and Europe, where he’s appeared on a variety of radio and TV shows. (The typically quiet musician professed to be tongue-tied when he met Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones and The Faces on the BBC’s Later with Jools Holland). But, all outward appearances, he’s made scant progress with his solo work since the release of his self-titled solo debut three years ago.)
Now he’s resurfaced as a bearded bard of artful dishevelment who’s poised for his big break.
“It feels right,” Ramsey says. “I’m really proud of the record. I went a couple months without listening to it, then listened to it again on the plane ride back from somewhere.”
Highlights include the sweepingly epic title track, the sweetly harmonic, Beach Boys-influenced “Once in Your Life”—perhaps the greatest departure from Ramsey’s previously stripped-down numbers—and gorgeous instrumentals like “Chinese New Year” and “Birdwings,” which showcase the musician’s considerable finger-style prowess.
Despite an aqueous element to the album—from the cover art (shot in Ramsey’s fish tank) to the hidden final track of crashing waves—Sea isn’t a concept album. “After the fact, I realized there’s a lot of talk about the sea and ships,” the musician notes. “There’s a mood that goes through it.”
The night vision referenced in “A Long Dream” is just that. “It was a real dream, a vivid dream, all underwater,” Ramsey explains. No subterfuge there—and the same can be said for the disc’s surprisingly heart-on-sleeve offerings. With beseechings of “Stay with Me,” set to a swell of strings, and the heart-aching assertion that “Once in your life you’re meant to find true love,” this is an album of professions far more than a collection of watery allusions. And, coming from the guy who previously gave us the commitment-shy (though iPod-worthy) “Lost Girls,” Sea is Ramsey’s sea change.
The Grey Eagle-hosted CD-release party for this long-awaited disc takes place two weeks before Sea reaches the world at large, and Ramsey is using the local show as an opportunity to share the stage with the many musicians who lent their talents to the project. Bill Reynolds, Laura Brown and Seth Kauffman are on that roster.
“I’m super looking forward to having it released,” Ramsey says. As for what the future holds—paramount recordings, romantic aspirations, critical acclaim—it all remains to be seen. Ramsey is focused on getting back on the road with his solo work and Band of Horses tour.
“Getting to travel this much, it’s like a new phase,” he reflects. “Hopefully I’ll have a lot to write about for my next album.”
who: Tyler Ramsey’s CD release show
what: Indie singer/songwriter
where: Grey Eagle
when: Friday, Jan. 4 (9 p.m. $10. 232-5800)