Release date: March 4, 2022
By Mark Baier
Chicago Blues is a well-known cultural export worldwide, and Chicago natives are keenly aware the impact and scope of its influence. After all, modern Rock, Jazz and Soul all have such solid foundations in the blues that they would hardly be recognizable without it. Given the international appeal and influence of blues music, it’s no surprise that the new generation of musicians dedicated to playing this timeless music are from lands far away from Chicago and its roots.
At 34 years young, Costa Rican native Jose Ramirez has turned the worldwide blues community on its collective ear after bringing Chicago’s West Side sound to audiences all over Europe and South America. An obvious master of the guitar, he’s equipped with a vocal ability that rivals Gary Moore or Robert Cray at their most poignant. Blessedly this level of talent hasn’t gone unnoticed as collaborations and performances with the likes of Buddy Guy, Anson Funderburg, Janiva Magness and Mark Hummel will attest. But no intercontinental blues journey can be complete without a stop in Chicago and one of its Meccas of the Blues, Delmark Records Riverside studios. When it comes to blues, you better prove it in Chicago before you run around the world claiming to be a “blues” artist. With the release of Major League Blues, Jose and Delmark confirm what fans the world over already know; Jose Ramirez is a bluesman of the highest echelon and he’s just getting started.
Supported by a cadre of musicians that can only be called The Delmark All-Stars, Jose spends the first section of the CD with Billy Flynn (guitar), Willie Hayes (drums), Roosevelt Purifoy (keys) and none other than Jimmy Johnson and Bob Stroger on guitar and bass. Talk about getting the imprimatur of the best of the best! The ensemble tears through near perfect renditions of Chicago classics “Bad Boy” and “My Love Is Your Love” in addition to a couple Ramirez originals. Johnson, Flynn and Ramirez trade licks like they’ve played hundreds of gigs at the Mines together, and it demonstrates how universal the language of the blues is. Johnson, Stroger, Flynn, Purifoy and Hayes couldn’t have come from more different places and environments than Jose, yet they all share a common humanity; one in which the love of the Blues bonds them as one. This music has no boundaries or color, just pure fundamental cosmic energy.
It goes without saying that Jose Ramirez is a fantastic guitarist; he clearly is top shelf in that department. His tone and phrasing is impeccable, the rhythms and melodies are crisp, powerful and pure. His soulful vocals are captivating and genuine, both emotional and commanding.
Major League Blues features two back up bands, the aforementioned Delmark All-Stars and a studio band. This second half was recorded in Canton, North Carolina, and is perhaps a bit less reverential than the Chicago sessions, but is very indicative of what a Jose Ramirez live performance consists of.
It’s a long way from Costa Rica to Chicago, but thanks to luminaries like Magic Sam, Eddie Taylor, Jimmy Johnson and Bob Stroger to fuel the journey, Jose Ramirez and Major League Blues make this distance trivial. Delmark and Jose Ramirez have a lot to be proud of with Major League Blues, and it illustrates how much Delmark has its hand firmly on the pulse on that music we all love so much.
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