Photo contributed by Ramona and the Sometimes
Ramona Muse Lambert — a visual artist, designer and teacher in addition to her notable performance art, music and emceeing career — is singer and songwriter for Ramona and the Sometimes, a Des Moines group just out with a new album, Negative Space Is a Positive Thing, recorded at Wabi Sound and self-released. The band members, all of whom contribute vocals, include Brian Brown on guitar, Katelyn Brown on keyboards, Dave Larsen on bass and Derek Muse Lambert on drums.
Derek (out with a new record himself this year) is Ramona’s husband and longtime collaborator, and the couple often creates with their 1-year-old son Melvin, who is also credited as a vocalist on the album. The band features another married couple, the Browns — indeed, making art and sharing life with loved ones is a theme of the album, and a familial feeling is somehow conjured up by the very sounds.
The arrangements are often guitar-oriented, but big doses of group vocals and organs make for a heart-touching setting for Ramona’s consistently bright and surprising lyrics, like on the beautiful track “Plant Mom.” All through the album, her lyrics constantly strike the mind with a cutting specificity. Her skill in scene-setting through memorable details makes for a multi-dimensional listen (eye-closing recommended). You’re gonna see all kinds of imagery as you listen — a testament to Ramona’s background in painting and visual arts.
A few of the songs have an especially sharp sensibility, like the on-the-nose “Talented Kids” which leads with a hint of children’s music (slide whistle and all) until a turn in the chorus adds a knowing complexity that is a generation removed. Other tunes shine with a spirited sincerity. “Open Sky” easily calls up a golden summer feeling like Jonathan Richman’s earnest celebrations of youth. “Negative Space” cooks up an empowering anthem about art-making; even when the refrain explodes the band sounds totally at ease—there is no sign of strain. It sounds like a classic you somehow missed.
Some of the record’s strongest moments come in segments of stirring a capella arrangements, which recur throughout the album, as in the opening track “Where Ya Been” and side B lead-off “Goth Girl.” In live performance, Ramona is sometimes accompanied by a large, choreographed choir of local singers, some of whose voices appear on the record alongside numerous other Des Moines artists. That deeply gracious act of joining in song with friends is imprinted on the record, which maybe is why it comes across as very loving. It’s an album about family that was audibly created by one.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 226.