Ramsay Midwood's debut album ("Shoot Out At The OK Chinese Restaurant")
first saw the light of day in Europe with a release on the German
Glitterhouse label back in 2000. It received a favorable press across
Europe, and now is available in his home land on the Vanguard label. This
now gives his fellow countrymen a chance to catch up on what they have been
The album opens with "Chicago" which offers a few clues to the Midwood
style. There is a sparse raw feel to many of the tunes here, several of
which start off very simply (vocals plus guitar or piano or banjo) before
the band come in several bars later. There is a great brooding atmosphere
to the overall sound, and Midwood has just the right sort of laconic voice
to make it work. The opener borrows from "Pick A Bale of Cotton," which is
not the only place where Midwood connects with his American musical roots.
Although the device of bringing the band in after the song gets going is
used on several tracks, it never becomes predictable or formulaic. In fact
it works really well on tracks like "Feed My Monkey," which rolls along
when the band come in, "Esther," where piano is used at the start and there
is some very nice melancholy fiddle, and "Waynesboro" where the opening is
on the banjo, and a certain Mr Zimmerman gets a namecheck.
Bob Dylan also springs to mind on the penultimate track, "Fisherman's
Friend." The song has a strong country/folk feel to it, but the combination
of keyboards and slide guitar hint at "Jack Of Hearts." After that Midwood
dips into the history book one more time to round things off with the
spoken "Dreary Life."
"Shoot Out..." is a very fine album that is steeped in the traditions of
American roots music, including blues. Many of the songs sound like they
could have been written pre-war, but have been given a new lease of life,
with a delivery that in several places calls to mind recent work by David
Johansen and the Harry Smiths. Other valid comparisons are Beefheart (in
his straighter stuff) and Tom Waits, and more recently Paul Reddick, but at
the end of the day, Ramsay Midwood is another fine songwriter doing his own
thing. Something a bit different, but recommended nevertheless.
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