Barstools and Broken Futures
“Where were you when / we lost the twins?” is the first thing David Ramirez sings on We’re Not Going Anywhere.
So I think about it. The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was in my college dorm room, my second year had just started, and my new girlfriend (who I eventually married) had spent the night. Max, my suitemate, busted in through the door of our rooms’ shared bathroom and told us to turn on the TV right now.
“Where were you when / the fear settled in?” Ramirez asks next, but I’m still thinking about September 2001. Later that month, some friends and I drove from western North Carolina to New York City, got really stoned and played Nintendo 64. We spent the next day wandering the city, shameless voyeurs gaping at the missing person fliers plastered in every window. We made it far enough to see the haze that hung in the air where the World Trade Center only recently stood, and we saw workers in hard hats board a subway, caked in that same dust and all marked with a haunted expression that I had never seen before and doubt I will again.
A verse later, Ramirez asks, “Where were you when / you stopped paying attention?”
Jesus Christ, but I didn’t even realize I was writing this review on Sept. 11, 2017. So I guess my answer would be something like, “Today,” or, “Already.” By the time he croons “Goodbye, America” to a delicate piano line, I’ve lost whatever high ground I pretend to occupy as a music journalist.
Then again, throughout We’re Not Going Anywhere, Ramirez presents himself at a similar disadvantage. The Austin singer-songwriter alternates between scathing rebukes of Trump-era America and self-deprecating barstool confessions. He doesn’t want to be this drunk on a Tuesday and he doesn’t want the country he lives in to backslide into the Stone Age, but he’ll sure as hell document both with an unflinching eye and a gift for lyrics.
“Don’t say I’ve got a good heart / while everything is falling apart,” Ramirez sings in “Good Heart.” Much of the album hinges on this conceit, which is explored to depth in tracks like “Telephone Lovers” or the fantastically executed “Time.” With its Tom Petty-esque melodies, “Good Heart” is one of the more alt-countrified tunes on We’re Not Going Anywhere. Yet this material is consistently darker than Petty. “Yeah, honey, I’m a ghost town,” Ramirez sings with bleary-eyed sincerity. “Pretty charming until you come around.”
We’re Not Going Anywhere inhabits a sort of darkened post-Americana, something haunted and terrified, something educated by both indie-folk and alt-country without landing squarely in either. On bleak outlaw country cut “Villain,” Ramirez sings in a confessional Cave-meets-Cohen rumble, while “I’m Not Going Anywhere” and “Eliza Jane” are optimistic in comparison.
And then there’s “Stone Age,” a scorched-earth indictment of modern America. Musically, it’s a hard-hitting Americana steamroller, a perfect fit for Ramirez’ vocal delivery. Gun violence is out of control, the president is obsessed with a border wall, white supremacists are increasingly empowered, and Ramirez is pissed. “I’m having trouble seeing colors / in the dawn’s early light,” he sings. “No more red, no more blue / all I’m seeing is white.” Again, and thematically, Ramirez speaks unflinchingly about the sociopolitical ruin of 21st century America from the desolate perspective of a Tuesday-night drunk. He’s like BoJack Horseman with a telecaster: tipsy, unsure he’s even a good person, but damn incisive.