Ramsay Midwood – Larry Buys A Lighter
Farmwire Music (2011)
Texas based singer-songwriter Ramsay Midwood is virtually unknown outside of Austin. Despite how painfully slept-on his music is, Midwood actually has three full-length albums, each more impressive than the last. The most recent, Larry Buys A Lighter, was released in 2011 and sadly is currently his only album to be pressed on vinyl. Fusing southern blues vocals with loose, swampy arrangement and production; the album sounds like Creedence Clearwater Revival playing Tom Waits songs at the bottom of a whiskey bottle.
Ramsay Midwood was born in Woodstock, New York to novelist and playwright Bart Midwood, which might account partially for his storytelling lyrical style. He moved to Arlington, Virginia with his mother (painter Susan Kellogg) and younger sister Becca when his parents divorced at the age of five. Midwood spent his childhood in Virginia practicing on a guitar given to him by his father and listening to old 78rpm records. During this period, he remembers going to the D.C. Folklife Festival where he was enchanted by blues legends like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Son House. Upon finishing school, Midwood moved to Chicago where he was involved in theater and met an actress who would eventually convince him to move to Los Angeles. In LA, he found a community of musicians that truly cared about the music they made and quickly gained local recognition. The most noteworthy musician Midwood met in Los Angeles was Lonesome Strangers’ guitarist Randy Weeks, who has contributed to every Ramsay Midwood album in some capacity.
Larry Buys A Lighter begins with an electronic drum loop that quickly fades into a live percussion track as Midwood begins to growl out the opening lines of “Rotten Alabama”, a stream-of-consciousness tale set over a steady driving musical backdrop. The track leads directly into the gritty opening notes of “Maybelline”, which lyrically evokes the blurred thoughts of a man trying to escape a hazy dream:
“Maybelline grease spattered up Toyota,
Corolla rolled into a ditch don’t you know?
She’s rainin’, she’s pourin’, creek gettin’ muddy
Ain’t got no horse to ride.
A kind-hearted woman took me to her bosom,
said hang them damn biscuit thieves
and gnawed on me like a wheel of hippie cheese.”
These (often unintelligible) nonlinear, nearly nonsensical lyrics are present on almost every track of the album, seemingly influenced more by William Burroughs than John Fogerty. One of the exceptions to this is the last track on the A side “9/11”, which relates the story of a golf course closed after 9/11 due to its proximity to an airport with a repetitive chorus of “9/11 9/11 9/11 9/11…”
Opening the B side is the only purely acoustic song to appear on the record, “Lightfoot”. A classically structured american folk song reminiscent of Woody Guthrie. Oddly enough, as a side-note, Midwood has a daughter with one of Arlo Guthrie’s several children, Cathy Guthrie. One in a prodigious line of musicians, Cathy plays ukulele in Folk Uke with Willie Nelson’s daughter Amy Nelson. Following “Lightfoot” is the Motown influenced, honky-tonk tinged “Pflugerville”, with pleading lyrics like “I’m falling out of love, I’m falling down the stairs, I said damn, don’t you care? I’m nothing but dust…Sweep me up and sweep me up now.” Another story on the album is “Jonah”, a retelling of the biblical tale of Jonah’s trials punctuated with loose, drawling guitar leads. Appropriately, this leads into the last track and only cover on the album, The Louvin Brothers’ country gospel classic “Higher Power”.
All in all, Ramsay Midwood is a bit of an enigma and at times even feels like an entirely cultivated character. Very little is known about him and what is known is half myth and half conjecture, much like the blues masters he strives to emulate. Larry Buys A Lighter is a record you can know by heart yet find utterly mysterious, a unique quality that yields spin after spin. Midwood only sells physical merchandise at his shows but there are sealed vinyl copies of the album available on Amazon. For more information about Ramsay Midwood, as well as upcoming tour dates, visit his website. All of his music is available for streaming on spotify, or via the player below.