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Willis Alan Ramsey

Thursday, December 27

Willis Alan Ramsey is still mulling over the follow-up to his debut. It's been a lengthy process, 30 years now, in fact. And Ramsey is grayer and portlier after spending the 1980s in the U.K. ruminating about his record deal gone bad.

Yet his comeback isn't as precarious a proposition as his three-decade recording gap would lead one to believe. So far, it's been a soft landing. In the summer of 2000, The New York Times called him a legend. Musicians have chimed in too, especially Lyle Lovett. Lovett once slung cups of java at the Austin coffeehouse where Ramsey sang his heart out, and he still tells anybody who'll listen that Ramsey's only album packs more of a wallop than some artists' entire catalogs. In fact, Lovett has recorded or co-written with Ramsey three tunes that have become personal trademarks: "Sleepwalkin,'" "North Dakota" and "(That's Right) You're Not from Texas."

While the royalties generated from that trio keep Ramsey's mailbox full of money, it's nothing like the piles of cash he began receiving when saccharine popsters the Captain and Tennille turned a Ramsey toss-off ("Muskrat Candlelight") into the chart smash "Muskrat Love."

Someday Ramsey's cult may finally find out if a follow-up album can capture the self-assured tenor and insightful lyrics that appeared on vinyl back in the stoned age. For now, though, Ramsey is just feeling his way back to the club circuit. His legend preceded his performance at a little-publicized December gig at Galveston's Old Quarter attended by about 30 diehards. His emotive lyrics cut through the air with the same slashing effect as his off-kilter guitar picking. When he performs, he has a sweaty, intense air about him that makes his delivery of each song seem like an exorcism. And it's easy to see where Lovett copped his quirky vocal delivery: Ramsey's phrasing doesn't stay within the lines, bursting out of tidy couplets and running across chord changes.

 
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