Saturday, January 27, 2018

Scott Ramminger's Alive & Ornery

Compared to the Jay Willie Blues Band release I just reviewed, this 2-CD live set from sax player Scott Ramminger is more typical of today's blue scene--it's a live recording so it has plenty of interaction and counterpoint between the performers and the audience. In five albums since his 2011 debut Crawstickers, Ramminger has gained a reputation for composing original blues tunes that are both meaty and funny, with slightly bawdy lyrics that capture the sexual undercurrents that help define the blues. (On "Rebecca, Rebecca," he tells his lady love to get her "big legs" on him ASAP.) That means his performances are punctuated by knowing laughs from the crowd--it's all about everyone getting just a little naughty and having a good time.

Ramminger understands this. In the liner notes he states "I love to write, and dig the production aspect of making studio records. But I also really like getting out and playing live, particularly with a good band in small or medium-sized clubs." That's exactly what we have here, a series of performances in Washington DC captured last summer in very small clubs where you can here the enthusiastic responses of individuals in the crowd rather than the sterile sound of mass applause in a large hall. These are the kind of performances where you can hear Ramminger saying "Thank you sir for demonstrating the tip jar" during the fade out.

As I mentioned in the Jay Willie review, the blues as a genre is tough to explore because there is a strict formula for doing it right. It's basic music with a basic structure and the quality of any particular performance is based upon what is laid on top of that structure without diluting the whole. Ramminger's band--drummer Pete Ragusa, bassist Chris brown, trumpeter Vince McCool and a variety of guest guitarists and keyboard players--are solid and professional and daring enough to include nasty guitar lick or a seductive growl of yet more Hammond B-3s. The added layers, therefore, consist of lots of humor and swagger.

Isn't that what the blues are all about? Attitude is what makes this type of music special, and Ramminger's floating in a big heated swimming pool full of attitude. Like most blues singers, he knows that the secret to the blues is to act like a ladies' man who knows nothing about ladies and that's why he's so funny. Alive & Ornery is funny and consistently so across two discs of music. I think those qualities increase exponentially, however, when you get out and hear his band live.

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