If you’ve seen a Band of Horses live show at any point over the past several years, you have surely noticed Tyler Ramsey. Lanky and often bearded, Ramsey unassumingly handles lead guitar duties, subtly adding texture and grace to Ben Bridwell’s sprawling, haunted tunes. For a band with one foot planted squarely in the pantheon of ‘70s rock vibes, it makes sense that Ramsey himself is a singer-songwriter. Despite rarely handling any Band of Horses vocal duties, Ramsey has quietly been putting out albums of his own material now for well over six years. His latest release, the appropriately titled The Valley Wind, finds Ramsey’s music dabbling in the mesmerizing plaintive sounds of melancholy. In the vein of Neil Young, Jackson Browne, and Red House Painters, the songs effortlessly and beautifully glide by on the strength of Ramsey’s melodic guitar playing and lilting singing voice. It’s a tightly focused, economical listen that showcases a talent capable of stepping out into his own spotlight, in addition to offering essential ax duties to one of the most listenable bands in rock today.
Despite the move to Fat Possum Records, a bigger and more wide-reaching label, The Valley Wind largely remains a homegrown affair. Ramsey, an Asheville, North Carolina resident, crossed the state’s western border and holed up in Nashville’s Alex the Great studio over the course of a surprisingly frigid and snowy six January days. With BoH bandmate and buddy Bill Reynolds handling production and bassist duties and Floating Action’s Seth Kauffman on drums, the trio concentrated heavily on the performance aspects of recording, placing Ramsey’s lushly intricate finger-picking square in the middle of each composition. The results are reflected immediately, as the album opens with “Raven Shadow”, a 54-second John Fahey-esque instrumental number that sets the tone for what’s to come. From there, the title track appears: all Neil Young Harvest-era AM gold with its uncertain themes of longing and solitude shrouding the proceedings in mystery. The comparison to Young applies prominently to the musical arrangements and to Ramsey’s voice. “Angel Band” slowly reveals itself over a downtrodden melody reminiscent of Harvest Moon or Prairie Wind material, while also reflecting Ramsey’s BoH contribution “Evening Kitchen”. “When It’s Done” is anchored by aggressive downward strums, sounding like a lost CSN&Y track. And the voice, while not quite reaching the higher registers displayed by the rock legend, definitely mines a similar register, making the comparisons flattering yet inevitable.
As a lyricist, Ramsey focuses his imagery on a constant set of the rustic and pastoral: sorrowful black birds chirp haunting melodies from the trees, night birds sing their way back home, and menacing shadows and cold winds creep and sweep across the neighbors’ lawns. They fit the album’s tone well, reflecting a haunting pathos steeped in traditional elements of the arcane. Though the aforementioned Young is Canadian as is the Band (another reference point), these sentiments and descriptions are distinctly southern, giving Ramsey an air of authenticity in his approach to the craft. Always seeking meaning and interpreting ghosts of past generations, southerners can conjure up all sorts of fascinating yarns and interpretations. In this regard, Ramsey has paid attention to his surroundings, and whether intentionally or not, tipped his hat to the genre of the Southern Gothic.
Influences aside, when he sings “Round the corner, you can see a shadow in the headlights / And it wasn’t long ago that the shadow across the road was mine,” the listener can hear the longing regret and search for purpose emanating from the speakers. Above all, Ramsey’s songwriting connects on a personal, more mundane level. Creatively reflecting common sentiments is a surefire way for a songwriter to win fans. Tyler Ramsey’s The Valley Wind should ultimately succeed in that regard.