This Artist Is An Artist, (11/21/07) Arthur Wood, Folkwax
Let's begin by stating categorically that this artist is an artist. My meaning? Like the walls
and ceiling of Chip Raman's Philadelphia home, the twenty-four-page liner booklet
lavishly features reproductions of his paintings. The CD liner cover shot appears
abstract and, while initially the eye may be drawn to the broad, white curve that spirals off
into orange infinity in the centre of the work, in the lower left corner there appears to be
parallel lines, possibly strings on the fingerboard of a guitar? Some of the latter,
unattached and free, twist and turn across the bottom and vertical right edge of the work.
Could they possibly be sounds, word and melody heard by listeners, which drift
irrevocably into the ether, lost forever until the song is performed again? In truth, the
painting is reproduced in full on the front of the liner booklet and therein the
aforementioned "unattached strings" also frame the vertical left and top edge of the
painting where they merge with those coming from the right. As I said at the outset, the
artist is a musician, the musician is a poet, the poet is an artist...the circle unbroken.
Raman co-produced his twelve-track debut recording with Asheville-based musician Chris
Rosser, and it features spot on vocal and instrumental contributions from numerous
Kerrville Folk Festival regulars - Adam & Kris, Chuck Brodsky, Jamie Byrd, Joe
Carlson, Brian Cutean, Darlene, Steve Fisher, Stefanie Fix, David LaMotte, Lowry
Olafson, Don Porterfield, and Dirje Smith. It's thirteen years since Chip Raman first
strode across the acres of the Quiet Valley Ranch (QVR), the home of the Kerrville
Folk Festival, and he's returned to the festival and this Hill Country
home-away-from-home every year since. It's hardly a stretch to state that during this
eighteen-day, annual event, music is being performed 24/7 somewhere on the ranch.
Some of the most beautiful creations ever to assail the human ear come not from
Mainstage or Threadgill Theatre performers, but from the hands and mouth of a
shadowy figure picked out by the flickering light of a late-night campfire. You may never
learn the identity of the singer, but the memory and the song will remain forever in the
hearts of those who were truly listening.
If the latter paragraph appears convoluted, Raman's songs truly deserve that
introduction. In the press release that accompanied the CD, Raman reveals that the
opening track, "Edge Of The Wind," was inspired by one such magical, jaw-dropping
QVR moment when the union of words and melody raises hairs on arms and sends shivers
down many a spine. Across three verses Raman contemplates the possibility that mighty
oaks from tiny acorns could grow as the chorus of voices around the campfire (in song, the
participants pray for peace) rolls outward across the land like a giant wave engulfing
villages, towns, and cities. In the process, the peace song finds expression "In the voices
of a hundred million souls." "Bustin' Outta Here" proposes the principle of always fully
embracing life while in the spiritually-tinged "My True Companion," post the bridge line
that runs "I was given my reply by my true companion," it's fitting that Raman's voice is
double tracked. The lyric to "Beautiful," a from-me-to-you song of praise, does not
contain many words. Those present are simply, ample, and beautiful.
A self-portrait of the artist appears on the page opposite the "Lonesome Painter" lyric.
Verse-on-verse the spiritually-driven words give expression to the "late at night" internal
tumult that leads to colour-fuelled expression on canvas, to the sound of one voice
singing, or to rhyming words and lines written on paper. In the fourth and final verse,
drawing upon those threads, Raman gives expression to the riches and possibilities that
this life offers those who seek them. Written soon after 9/11, in the second verse of
"Nature Of Things" Raman questions "the useless separation and isolation" that prevails
among this planet's nations. In the closing verse he chides mankind for being "so blind and
unkind." Seeking a positive way forward through the aforementioned disarray, in the third
verse Raman proffers "I absolutely refuse to believe/We are not nearer to where we
ought to be." A couple of tracks further on, in the narrative style of Tom Pacheco, "The
Post-It Note" amounts to an almost-eight-minute-long conversation with The Creator.
Love permeates every second of "Every Night," while "Segue" is a light and airy acoustic
guitar and banjo instrumental (both played by Raman) and he's supported by Don
Porterfield on bass and conga player Joe Carlson. Sonically speaking, "Little Mighty
One" is equally stripped down, with Raman's voice and guitar supported solely by Smith's
cello. In the role of teacher/counsellor, Raman has worked with talented as well as
emotionally disturbed youngsters and "Little Mighty One" was doubtless inspired by
one of the latter, aged six - "Meeting you was not by chance," "I could cry a million
tears/At the very thought of you/How you brave your gravest fears/Tough it out, see
it through" and, not least, "I hope someday you get this song/I hope you find some peace
of mind/I pray you live that long." Talk about saving the best for last...the penultimate
"Aspire" praises the beauty inherent in a song arising (and more), while I can precisely
pinpoint the QVR as the location and Sunday, June 8, 2003, as the date when the
splendour of Raman's anthemic, choral album closer "Thank You" first pierced my heart.
Chip Raman, I salute you. Peace be with you, in fact, with all of us. I thank you.
Two signs are knowingly posted at the gate to the QVR campground. They state,
simply, "Welcome home" and "It can be like this always." Oh that the rest of this world
pursued the same path.
I almost forgot...Edge Of A Song contains a video segment filmed late at night at
Threadgill Theatre and finds Raman energetically performing the rib-tickling "I'm In
Touch With My Feelings."
Arthur Wood is a founding editor of FolkWax