Bo Ramsey is a guitar player and producer. Working predominately in the Americana genre he has produced albums for artists like Lucinda Williams, Greg Brown and Iris Dement. He also appears as a guitarist on these and other artists’ recordings as well as a number of his own recordings. He has a distinctive style and tone that I describe as haunting, adding a moody, pensive sound to a mix.
I would like to highlight the recording “Ghost Repeater” by Jeffrey Foucault as an prime example of the accompaniment style of Bo Ramsey. Ramsey produced this 2006 recording as well as contributed his guitar playing. If you’re not familiar with Jeffrey Foucault he is a singer/songwriter originally from Wisconsin who released his first recording in 2001, “Miles From The Lightning.” “Ghost Repeater” is Foucault’s third solo release and his first with a ‘band’ on many of the tracks – drums, bass, organ, accordion and guitar in various combinations.
Foucault has become one of my favorite singer/songwriters. He writes deceptively basic sounding melodies as a vehicle for lyrics that are both descriptive with succinct detail and personal with understated emotion. His voice has a weathered feel, adding a sense of the truth and wisdom that comes from experience. The opening lines to the title track of Ghost Repeater are rich and chewy, complete yet demanding further consideration:
‘All of the drunks dressed up like Santa Claus
Ring Salvation Army bells.
The town square is quiet, the juke joints are empty
Everyone’s buying what no one can sell.’
The other 10 songs on the recording are as strong lyrically and range in style from blues to ballads, from country to country rock. Ghost Repeater is an excursion through much of the territory encompassing the Americana genre.
All of these songs are strong enough to stand alone with one guitar and one voice, as can be evidenced in many YouTube clips of Foucault performing them solo. Bo Ramsey’s production, however, adds to each song, making it more fully realized. The accompaniment varies from tune to tune but is never more than needed to enhance the feel and the story. On several, Ramsey’s guitar playing is an excellent example of the accompanist’s craft.
Until I figure out just what I can do both legally and technically to add audio examples to the blog I will just refer you to iTunes to listen to the 1:30 samples of these songs. If they aren’t enough to spur you to purchase the recording, they will at least demonstrate the points about the accompaniment in these songs.
‘Americans in Corduroys’ – This deceptively somber song is actually a love song. Over a finger picked acoustic rhythm that underlies the vocal, Ramsey employs a volume pedal and arpeggios to add an ethereal, haunting texture. At times the notes seem to appear out of nowhere and just hang in the air for awhile. Short passages of staccato attack emphasize the fingerpicked rhythm and the judicious use of echo enhances the feel. The percussion is almost entirely provided on cymbals, moving from high hats to lightly struck rides. It is subtle and mysterious in its own way.
A great example lyric:
‘At home the leaves are turning red and gold, the trees are burning
Ruined apples fall too heavy and too sweet
But right here the birds are callin’, the early stars are fallin’
For Americans in corduroys kissin’ in the middle of the street.’
‘One for Sorrow’ – This moderate tempo country-rock song has Ramsey and steel guitarist Eric Heywood working together above the familiar ‘boom-chucka’ rhythm of the acoustic guitar and drums. Sometimes they are trading phrases, at other times playing complimentary parts almost in counterpoint. Not only is this one of my favorite songs on the recording lyrically, the vocal harmony added by Kris Delmhorst on the chorus is noteworthy.
‘Your mama’ll give us china and your daddy’ll give us hell
And when we make our getaway they’re gonna ring those wedding bells.’
‘Train to Jackson’ – This is an moderate tempo ballad in the traditional, story-telling sense. It is in the key of B minor and, as such, it is a dark song. The blues flavored guitar lines accentuate the feel. There are a lot of words in this song and it would be easy to overplay and step on the lyric. Instead, Ramsey finds the spaces where his parts not only fit, but compliment the song.
‘Mesa, Arizona’ – A desert song and, although uptempo, a lonely song as well. Appropriately, Ramsey leaves a lot of space in his guitar parts. Like the song, there are holes all over, but they are only partially filled by memory and longing.
‘And the snow comes down from the desert sky
Tellin’ everybody something and it’s usually goodbye’
The other tracks on this album provide just as many examples of the accompanist’s craft and an enjoyable hour’s worth of well crafted songs.