Everything is being framed in reference to Trump. We can’t get away from him. Music, movies, TV, books- writers cannot seem to find another angle from which to view pop culture right now. I understand that his election and presidency are convenient cultural touchstones, but we live in a big world. There’s no need to make his head big enough to fill it.
Even a relatively unknown folk singer like David Ramirez gets viewed through the Trump lens. According to The Independent, his new album We’re Not Going Anywhere “sees him pitch a message of defiance against Donald Trump’s America.” Outlets from Billboard to the Waco Tribune highlight Ramirez’s Mexican heritage, as if this means he would naturally address the orange elephant in the room.
One of the songs on We’re Not Going Anywhere, “Stone Age,” does function as a protest song in response to the anti-immigration rhetoric of the alt-right (read: white supremacist) movement. And opener “Twins” considers how our country has changed since 9/11, wondering if we’ve come any distance at all. But the vast majority of the album confronts feelings of loneliness and isolation that feel very personal to Ramirez. I wish I knew the context, but no one thought to ask, because they got hung up on the “relevance” of a couple songs.
The irony is that Ramirez has always had a knack for the protest song, though he was most often protesting the music business or the culture surrounding Americana music. 2013’s “The Forgiven” rails against the hypocrisy of valuing authenticity while shunning any mention of religion. 2014’s “Stone” lashes out at the music business for prioritizing fame over substance. But Ramirez’s albums are full of songs that are about what most songs are about: love, loss, and longing.
We’re Not Going Anywhere could be viewed as a protest album, in the sense that Ramirez has decided to fill his production with more synths than usual, evoking an ‘80s nostalgia that spits in the face of traditional Americana. That’s not to say this is no longer folk music. It just embraces Tunnel of Love more than Nebraska. This is to the album’s credit. Ramirez, who has always been a strong lyricist, has expanded the palette he’s using to present them.
David Ramirez doesn’t have the machinery to market him like a Sturgill Simpson, and he’s not brand-savvy the way Chris Stapleton has been since his rise to stardom. No, Ramirez is, as he puts it, a “career musician.” And whether he meant it this way or not, this phrase implies that he is most at home on the touring circuit, playing shows at intimate venues in the states surrounding his home in Austin, Texas. His music feels most at home here too, his songs too intimate for an arena, his lyrics too honest to survive long outside of a bar.
The little reporting that followed this record near its debut often highlighted that Ramirez recorded the album in an 18th-century farmhouse in Maine, as if the age of the studio space lends it wisdom or something. But maybe the remove of the location matters. Maybe it’s partly responsible for the clear-eyed way Ramirez views both our world and his own. I’d rather read too much into that farmhouse than just assume the album is about Trump.
Covering the music business is hard, and I am glad it is not my job. There are so many records and so many artists and so many platforms; where do you even start? But artists like David Ramirez deserve to be presented accurately. Ramirez is a great musician, and he has a distinct perspective that is worthy to be praised. Shoehorning him into a narrative does no one any favors- except maybe Donald Trump.