India Ramey is the Hero Country Needs
RIYL: Jason Isbell, Neko Case, Dave Alvin
When you ask most people what they listen to, most people will lazily say "oh i listen to everything!...except, you know, country..." Country has, for most, always represented the worst and hokiest of what American music can offer. Something that you are embarrassed that your dad listens to. Well Snake Handler is not your dad's country music. Or at least not the stereotypical country music that most people assume the genre to be.
For the last couple years, mainstream country has been facing a slow but steady encroachment of a different sound. The genre most easily lambasted for unweildly lyrics ("Roller skating through a her d of buffalo"/"Theres a barbecue stain on my T-shirt in the shape of Texas"), unweildly politics (Dixie Chicks notwithstanding), thoughtlessly nationalist ideologies, or overly sentimental barroom self pity has begun to usher some modern liberal sensibilities, carried in from the genre's Americana and folk roots. The glitz and glam, the sheen of rhinestones and filigreed leather-work was a thin veneer covering scars. Go back and listen to some Dolly Parton songs and beneath the facade are some heartbreaking stories about real-life, dressed up in some fancy costumes that functioned more like armor protecting the singer from the subjects discussed.
Recently, there's been a wave of artists, perhaps best exemplified by Jason Isbell, who have been stressing this point, using the structure of country music to tell some new stories. India Ramey, with her national debut Snake Handler, is putting herself forward as a powerful new voice in the spirit of this new wave country. A survivor of a troubled background, India Ramey has carved a fierce line in the sand and forged ahead in the name of all of those who have been abused. In doing so she has brought country music back to its humbled roots and recorded a stellar, courageous debut laying bare much of her own story.
"Snake Handler," starts the record off with a bluesy southern Gothic feel, establishing the themes right off. Surrounded by a poisonous world of "snakes and scorpions," the singer walks through, her pride and self-professed arrogance immunizing her from the venom, but not the pain. Beset on all sides and every step she takes, she walks on, unbowed.
This is followed up with "Devils Blood" and "The Baby"--illuminating Ms. Ramey's story in near-explicit terms, making allegorical and obvious references to her and her family's abuse at the hands of a "monster." Given this troubled upbringing its no surprise that she lays into her hometown in "Devils Den," painting it a haven for the worst of America and humanity where even the ones you are supposed to trust are the ones pulling the strings and abusing their power. The concept of home becomes a trap, a barbed horror that is all the more terrifying for its mundanity, like mixing drugs in the same bath you wash your child. It's a stained, sordid picture, all the more informed by India Ramey's authentic delivery.
Its a record that could not be more timely. We are reaching a cultural turning point where the dynamics of power--who has it, who doesn't, and how it is used--are being laid bare in every facet of life from the political to the everyday. That India Ramey is using country music as a means of transmission for illuminating these dynamics and highlighting these stories for an audience which has, stereo-typically, been the least receptive to it, is of vital importance. If in her southern Gothic Americana she can bring her story and the story of so many survivors of abuse to the attention of that audience we all assume to be the steadfast and consistent consumers of country music, only good things could come fro it. And so far she has done a remarkable job of that--she will be performing live as a finalist in the 2017 Newsong Music Competition that will be broadcasted live on 11/30 HERE and is embarking on a southern tour.