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Published: 2002/12/22
by Mike Greenhaus

Shoot Out the OK Chinese Restaurant – Ramsey Midwood

Vanguard Records 79725-2
There is nothing new about Ramsey Midwood’s Shoot Out at the OK Chinese
Restaurant. The album draws from America’s oldest and most traditional
forms of music: folk, blues, country, and Americana. Midwood rambles through
his words with a Dylan-eqsue mumble, and his story-song structure is rooted
in the legendary sound of traveling musicians like Woody Guthrie. The album
itself isn’t even new: it was originally released in 2000 by the
Glitterhouse label. But while Shoot Out at he OK Chinese Restaurant
isn’t anything new, that’s not to say its not forward thinking.
Mixing soft singer-songwriter sounds and harder rolling folk-rock, Shoot
Out at the OK Chinese Restaurant runs the gamut of post-rock folk
styles. Opening with the twangy "Chicago," Midwood creates a distinct outlaw
mood for his album. His slightly distorted vocals mix well with his eclectic
mix of instruments, ranging from harmonicas and fiddles, to pianos and
accordions. On the haunting "Esther," Midwood accents his subtler
structures. Delivering a Tom Waits-esque almost spoken word performance,
Midwood allows an acoustic piano and bongo drum to guide listeners through
his story song. "Feed My Monkey" is a straight folk cut that a pre-Blonde
on Blonde Bob Dylan would be proud of and "Grass’ll Grow" pops and
crackles like it should have been on a vinyl LP.
While the disc may seem like an odd-man among its psychedelic peers,
Shoot Out at the OK Chinese Restaurant orbits near the jamband
universe. Like Wilco, Midwood has a raw and rootsy sound, which is often
organic and constantly changing. The disc is also full of off-center solos,
whether it’s a pounding harmonica or rusty fiddle. While many jambands look
to the Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers for inspiration, Midwood looks to
their predecessors, Dylan and the Byrds, as a tray for his musical palette.
The singer also, like so many jambands, isn’t afraid to throw different
styles into his musical stew.
It’s this medley on styles that makes _Shoot Out at the OK Chinese
Restaurant_ interesting. As its title suggests, Midwood has taken
traditional sounds and put a new, lo-fi sounding spin on them. These rough
edges make certain cuts distinctly Beck-like, with muffled vocals and a
punkish snarl to his folk music. Midwood jumps through so many folk
influenced styles that he often becomes a folk-music reference tool, showing
how folk developed from an constantly changing storybook to the alternative
sounds of Beck, Tom Waits, and Wilco.

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