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Big Day at Ramseur Records: Small but mighty Concord label prepares to release trio of albums

By Sarah Hall
Salisbury Post
The folks at Ramseur Records in Concord will surely be celebrating July 22, and music fans will, too.
The small but mighty Ramseur label will be showering listeners with not one, not two, but THREE album releases in one day.
Re-emerging from over a dozen years of recording hibernation, folk singer Sammy Walker is back with a new CD, “Misfit Scarecrow.”
Georgia native Walker recorded for Folkways and Warner Brothers in the 1970s, had some European tours, then took a protracted vacation from the spotlight. Perhaps it was because he “never had any desire to swim in the shark-infested waters of the commercial music business,” as he says in the album notes. And he embraces the adjective “misfit” for himself, and not just the tattered protagonist of the title track.
“Misfit Scarecrow” is definitely a stand-out song among the many gems on this CD. The plaintive tones of the openback five-string banjo paint a stark field where the song unfolds. With contemporary commentary delivered like a plantation work song, it demonstrates that inhumanity is a timeless theme.
Who among us has not felt helpless inertia, as if we have a pole up our back rooting us to the spot, when we feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the world’s problems?
His topical songs give a traditional treatment to events as current as the Twin Towers and the Tsunami of Twenty-O-Four, as if Woody Guthrie came to visit in a time machine.
When Walker was recording Woody Guthrie songs for Warner Brothers he appears to have soaked the folk legend’s music directly into his veins, and it continues to flow freely. His nasal voice even sounds like that of Woody’s son Arlo.
Listening to Walker’s compositions, all original, one can’t help but think also of Bob Dylan and Hank Williams. The latter’s memory is particularly invoked in the last track, the country blues style “Someday I’m Gonna Rock and Roll.” This humorous postscript to the CD makes it clear that, in spite of the song’s title, we need not be expecting rock and roll from him.
That’s fine, Sammy. Please keep doing what you’re doingóquality acoustic, thoughtful folk music. And keep doing it in North Carolina, where you now reside.
Samantha Crain is the newest member of the Ramseur recording family. Her first record on the label is set for release July 22.
“The Confiscation: A Musical Novella by Samantha Crain” is intriguing even before it’s played. The CD cover has the look of a tiny leather-bound tome, with raised lettering and faux stitching helping perpetuate the cardboard cover’s book disguise.
Listening, I like to believe that the young singer/songwriter has managed to escape the TV and technology traps and influence that preoccupies her peers. Her songs have a timeless shimmer, as if mined from the imagination between pages, not the glaring reality of modern life. Barely in her 20’s, Crain’s young voice seems coupled with an old soul.
Crain is a Choctaw Indian who hails from Shawnee, Okla. but she seems to have invented a dulcet dialect of her own. She caresses each word and releases them in round tones, their musical effect as important as their meaning.
The instrumentation is effectively spare, encircling the words, never overpowering them.
And while the album is called a “musical novella,” it’s more like a collection of stories tied together by a theme of redemption. The five songs on this EP contain more depth and emotion than usually found on full-length CDs by most artists.
Few CDs could create more longing anticipation than a new album from The Avett Brothers of Concord. Their fans seem to exhibit signs of physical withdrawal if forced to go too long without a new release.
Scott Avett modestly acknowledges they have especially dedicated admirers. In a recent interview he called this “a testament to taking our time.” They take time to do things right, and they are generous in giving time to the fans.
He admitted the original intention had been to put out a full-length album by this time, but when they saw that wasn’t going to happen, they put their all into producing this wonderful six-song EP. There will also be a vinyl version, with two bonus tracks.
It would do this album a disservice to call it an appetizer to keep fans happy while they wait for the main course. The Second Gleam is simply brilliant.
This album is the second in what promises to be a Gleam series, featuring brothers Scott and Seth Avett with little more than guitar and banjo. As in the “The Gleam,” they demonstrate all they need is each other to create an incredible work of art.
The songs are unabashedly autobiographical and unapologetically tuneful. They juxtapose difficult emotions about the transience of life with gentle, flowing arrangements.
The song “Murder in the City” has especially gained popularity in live performances, and fans will be happy to find it included on this album. Based on a letter Scott wrote to his wife and couched in a moving setting, it outlines his wishes in case of his untimely demise, .
It is unusual to have an album where no song seems to stand out, but each song seems to be vying for the honor of being the best. If I had to pick my favorite, it would be “The Greatest Sum,” which, I freely admit, had me teary-eyed.
The song’s descending phrases fall gently like rain, and just when you think a song couldn’t be more perfect, the incredible suspended harmonies of the brothers’ voices in the final refrain make this remarkable song even better. And when they sing that no sum of gold could ease the pain of separation from the one they love, I’m ready to follow them anywhere.
The final track, “Souls Like the Wheels,” with its repeated refrain of “Let me go, let me go, let me go,” summarizes the theme of moving forward on this album and in the brothers’ lives. It seems a bittersweet prelude to the next chapter in their career.
This is to be the the Avett’s last album on the Ramseur label, as they recently got picked up by the major company American/Columbia Records. Their next album is already underway, being recorded in Los Angeles with legendary producer Rick Rubin.
This turn of events has Dolph Ramseur’s blessing. He is prouder than anyone of the Avett’s accomplishments. And he will remain as The Avett Brothers’ manager.
This latest development is just another testament to taking their time.

On July 26, the Avett Brothers will be celebrating the release of The Second Gleam with their first headlining show in North Carolina this year. They will be at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. Gates open at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 7.
More information is available at www.boothamphitheatre.com.
To read more and listen to Sammy Walker, Samantha Crain, The Avett Brothers and other Ramseur Records artists, visit www.ramseurrecords.net.
Contact Sarah Hall at shall@salisburypost.com.
 

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