It was a crowded house for alt-country songstress India Ramey’s Snake Handler album release show at cozy Nashville venue The Basement. Though her brilliant new effort’s autobiographical subject matter is somber, recounting heartbreak, domestic abuse, and brutalization at the hands of her biological father, the atmosphere was celebratory. “Remember when we couldn’t get a gig in this town?” she asked opener Rayvon Pettis when she took the stage. “We made our own and put on a show in my back yard, and the cops shut us down,” she recalled with a laugh. “If that ain’t country, I’ll kiss your ass.”
Ramey began the set with the album’s first song and title track, and performed the entire record from cover to cover. Between each, she relayed details of the true-life events that inspired her. “Sorry for all the daddy issues,” she said. “The best thing that son-of-a-bitch ever did was give me plenty of material for country songs.” As my own mother would have said, India Ramey “ain’t biggern’ a minute,” but when she opened her mouth, an enormous voice filled the room, one that brought to mind iconic female country pioneers like Parton, Lynn, Tucker, or Wynette. “I was the baby who never got to be a child,” she sang as she was firmly positioned centerstage and planted behind a guitar and a microphone. Her mother and stepfather sat front and center, singing along to every word of what must have been difficult for them to hear, yet their adoration and pride were virtually palpable.
Making her way through the writer’s block and depression-themed outlaw song “The Trees,” that barreled from the stage like a freight train, to the sweetly melodic “Drowned Town” about the submerged ghost cities that exist under man-made Alabama lakes. She told a road trip story of hearing numerous hometown-inspired songs on pop country radio filled with tales of bonfires and tailgate parties. “I want to know where these guys are from! We just had meth heads and rednecks,” she said with a laugh, and decided to write her own hometown story, called “Devil’s Den,” no less. Ramey sang her songs with with fire in her eyes and head-shaking conviction, finishing the show with a few of her older tunes and an Emmylou Harris cover, as she put it, “for levity.”
India Ramey has packed of lot of life experience into her years; while the faint-of-heart would not likely have survived, this Southern force of nature is anything but a shrinking violet. She has taken her lemons and made thirst-quenching lemonade, and we’re lucky we had the chance to share it with her.