Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tyler Ramsey "A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea"

If you are one of these people who hates reviews full of comparisons and references to other bands and musicians, you should probably stop reading now. This one will have plenty of them. On his latest album, A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea, Tyler Ramsey ploughs the same fields as Neil Young and plumbs the same ethereal depths as Ray LaMontagne. With his nimble, atmospheric guitar playing, Ramsey enters the same rarefied territory occupied by Willy Porter and the other acoustic guitar wizards that seem to escape mainstream attention. It’s a blissfully wonderful achievement and the North Carolinian singer/songwriter has scored the first great late-night chill-out album of 2008.

The Magnetic Fields are currently earning praise for restoring meaning to album titles by employing distortion on Distortion. Ramsey deserves credit as well. His soothing melodies and harmonies truly do have the feel of a long dream and from A Long Dream’s opening notes, Ramsey draws you into his pacific world where you can float along on his warm comforting vocals and weightless acoustic guitar.

Owing a slight debt to LaMontagne, Ramsey explores different ranges of hushed quietude, drawing resounding resonance from the silence between notes. Lyrically, Ramsey isn’t as devastatingly introspective as LaMontagne but he does get pretty contemplative. The opening couplet of “A Long Dream” and “Ships” set the disc’s tone and begin Ramsey’s peaceful journey; once on his way, he never missteps.

On the middle of the album, Ramsey goes into Neil Young country mode with “No One Goes Out” and “When I Wake” sounding like they could have come from any of Shakey’s Harvest sessions. “Once In Your Life” is the most adventurous and interesting track Ramsey crafts a three-part suite that cycles through moods much like Buffalo Springfield’s “Broken Arrow,” starting out as a simple Young-influenced acoustic track, moving into upbeat Sixties-style garage-pop and finishing with an upbeat guitar and piano jam. Ramsey also works in some especially nifty and slightly funky slide guitar on the instrumental “Chinese New Year”

Ramsey makes some interesting choices with his arrangements. For “Please Stop Time,” the closing track, Ramsey plays his guitar in concert with his mournful, patient vocals instead of a complementary melody. The decision gives the seemingly simple track an understated complexity and makes for a poignant finale that eases into the peaceful wash of the ocean tide.

Over the autumn months, Ramsey opened numerous shows for Band Of Horses, eventually turning the gig into a full time job with the critically beloved band. You can only hope that joining a group that had their latest release end up on scores of Best of 2007 lists doesn’t obscure the release of Ramsey’s achingly beautiful solo release.



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