Willis Alan Ramsey – Poor Davids Pub (Dallas, TX)
Willis Alan Ramsey looked perplexed, deciding how to deal politely with one fool on a stool who obviously loves his music but wouldnt shut up and listen.
Ramseys performance is quiet and introspective, mixing classics with new material. On this night, a lone drunk loudly and continually requested half a dozen old songs as Ramsey worked through 20 tunes in two and a half hours.
In 1972, at age 21, Ramsey released a self-titled album of smart, wistful, sometimes funny songs that remain fresh today. By the early 1980s, with the stresses that sometimes accompanies early success, Ramsey always more cosmic than urban cowboy had basically disappeared from public life. He traveled and studied the European roots of American folk music, resurfaced briefly in Nashville, took another sabbatical, moved back to Austin, and now is performing again, his vinyl classic recently having been released on CD.
In his third stop at the venerable Poor Davids Pub this year, he attracted a couple hundred old friends and fans, plus a sampling of newcomers to his music who probably werent born in 1972.
A little grayer and heavier than the skinny kid on the cover of Willis Alan Ramsey, he brought his own sound gear and meticulously took three hours to soundcheck three old Martin guitars because, he said, the past 35 years of technological advancements have so degraded the sound of music.
His first set was basically acoustic blues, 11 songs that lyrically and musically carried the audience through a lazy summer day (from Wishbone to Watermelon Man to Bayou Girl) into the dark of a lonely night (from Sleepwalkin to Satin Sheets). In Northeast Texas Women, he reminded us that Dallas women standin up beat the others lyin down, and that you gotta get young before you get old.
Early in the first set, he responded to the drunk: I bet you think you and I are having a conversation here. And, later, I have a little three-year-old daughter who wants us to do things, too, and she doesnt always get what she wants.
The second set was more country and folk. In Wild Heart, he sang about losing musician friends, and asked us to sing a sad song, and drink another round. In North Dakota, which he co-wrote with Lyle Lovett and sang as a duet with his wife, Alison Rogers, Ramsey recalled words that hang frozen in the air, and sometimes I look right through them as if they were not there. He closed with the ballad Angel Eyes as a young couple slow-danced on the threadbare carpet.
There was no encore, but most of the 60 or so people left in the room by the end of the night hung around to talk with Ram_sey, Rogers, and each other about why the old days were so special, and how good the nights still can be, for people who listen.