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Songs We Love: David Ramirez, 'Rock And A Hard Place'

David Ramirez's new album, <em>Fables</em>, is out now.
Greg Giannukos
Courtesy of the artist
David Ramirez's new album, Fables, is out now.

It's not easy for a writer to maintain the aura of the unspoken in a song. Music and the space surrounding it intensify the impact of confession; the true challenge comes in giving voice to a narrator who's tongue-tied, or simply reticent. Texas singer-songwriter David Ramirez does so beautifully in the weary not-quite-country ballad "Rock and a Hard Place." The song is about the light at the end of rock bottom. Ramirez speaks for someone who's cogent in his lost state, at peace with the cold insights despair offers him.

It's one of the many powerful songs on Ramirez's third album, Fables. Produced by fellow shadow-nurturer Noah Gunderson, Fables is about fighting for love in the midst of self-doubt; "Rock and A Hard Place" comes at that moment when salvation seems like too much to desire. Gunderson's sister Abby arranged the track's strings and provides a backing vocal that's supportive, but so modest that it never violates the solitary mood.

Fleshing out Ramirez's story, video director Ryan Booth cast American Sniper and Fargo actor Keir O'Donnell as a man who quietly tends to the bottled demon he keeps in his glove compartment. O'Donnell's character has clearly lost much, and the actor's performance is all winces and downward glances; he owns the pain. The clip's twist ending reminds us that people living in this narrow space of sadness may not be what they appear. The video, premiering here, is a sadly beautiful realization of Ramirez's disclosure of fatal acceptance.

Fables is out now Sweetworld Records/Thirty Tigers.

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Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.
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