Anyone who’s ever held a special place in their heart for Dr. John’s Gris-Gris, Dylan and The Band’s The Basement Tapes, or Tom Wait’s Swordfish Trombones can just stop reading right here, and go and buy this CD with confidence!
This album was originally released a few years ago by the artist himself, who’s been busy carving out an awesome live reputation, particularly on the European circuit. Fortunately, Vanguard Records have stepped in to prevent Midwood toiling as a “prophet without honour” in his own land, and have granted this CD the distribution it deserves.
A glance at the song titles reveals something of the territory that we’re wandering in to: “Dreary Life,” “Mohawk River,” “Heaven’s Toll,” “Waynesboro,” “Chicago,” and the rest. These are the tales of a restless drifter, a dweller in the downtown places. Midwood’s a tremendous storyteller whose barroom drawl of a voice invests his lyrics with humour and resignation in equal measure. That voice, however, can be deceptive, as there’s more to these songs than meets the ear on first hearing. They contain acutely observed truths, often darkly comical and sometimes slyly political. Midwood’s voice may be slouching, and occasionally staggering, but his mind’s as alert as a sprinter.
There are no musician credits on the promo copy that I’ve got, but these people certainly take care of business. The drums and bass shuffle and groove, the piano rolls and tumbles, a hangdog harmonica howls a lament and a banjo scurries and snaps like an alligator. Now and again a fiddle snakes it way through the dust, while the electric guitarist effortlessly brings Steve Cropper’s Memphis soul telecaster to mind. Add in the acoustic guitars, organ and tambourine and it’s a mighty gumbo (darn, I’ve fallen into the obvious cliché trap)!
Now and again Midwood’s influences can threaten to take over from his own vision. “Fisherman’s Friend,” for example, sounds like it came straight from the “Highway 61 Revisited” sessions. But Midwood doesn’t seem to mind, and neither should the listener. While lines like: “I don’t want your sympathy, a shake, a howdy or a cup of tea” go some way to explaining why Midwood’s been saddled with the “new Dylan” tag by some critics (it’s been a while since we had one of those, hasn’t it?), they also demonstrate that he’s comfortable in his own skin and not about to start making compromises to suit others expectations.
Ultimately, this CD is the work of Ramsay Midwood, and damn fine it is too. As the man himself, succinctly and somewhat poetically, declares: “if you don’t like it, you can kiss my ass, ’cause I drive a monster truck!
(Vanguard Records, 2002)