In the late 18th century, English poet William Cowper released a collection of poetry titled The Task: A Poem, in Six Books. At roughly 6,000 lines of free verse poetic verse, The Task is considered by many to be Cowper’s crowning achievement. Understandably, many modern day folks may not have much familiarity with Cowper or his works, but a line from his masterpiece has made its way into the lexicon of American expression of speech. Cowper writes “Variety is the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavor.” Perhaps unfairly to Cowper, his term is presently used to describe nearly everything under the sun.
But assuming that Cowper was correct and that variety is indeed the spice of life, then the new album by Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition titled White Buffalo should have a pretty long life ahead of it. Drawing on influences that range from Delta Blues, Country and good old fashioned Rock n’ Roll, White Buffalo is a collection of songs that is brilliant in its delivery, yet easy to digest for even the most casual of listener.
Mathus & Co. start things off on a high note with the opening track “In the Garden.” The Springsteen-esqe track compares the Garden of Eden with the everyday perils and tribulations of modern day city living. In spite of the somewhat brash lyrical content, the song itself is utter gem. It oozes out of the speakers with such a warm, welcoming melody and instrumentation that it disarms your prejudice for the remainder of the set. (See the video for “In the Garden” here.)
The following few songs follow in the same footsteps as the album opener albeit with less impact. It’s not until the fourth track of the record (and the title track) that the full potential and power of the White Buffalo is unleashed. Featuring a great Blues riff, blazing guitar solos and Hammond organs, the album’s namesake track is a rollicking affair to say the least.
Next up is the low-key track “Hatchie Bottoms” which works well enough as a standalone song, but sounds amazing coming off the stomping madhouse of the previous track. It’s like the audio equivalent of putting a cold steak on a freshly punched eye. What a wonderful transition into the second half of the record.
The critique on city life continues on “Poor Lost Souls.” Like earlier songs on the record, it initially comes across as harsh criticism, but due to the down-home country vibe of the track, it’s difficult to hold the opinions of Jimbo against him. Instead, the song leaves you longing for simpler surroundings and good times.
“Run Devil Run,” the second to last track on the record is perhaps the most surprising and satisfying cut on the entire record. With eerie atmospherics, throbbing percussion and an overall creole flavor, “Run Devil Run” sounds like a long lost track from The Doors (that is if they were hopped up on shine and recording in the swamps of the deep south.) It’s a genuine standout on an album that is already chock full of great music.
White Buffalo is without a doubt one of the more interesting albums to stumble upon. With the masterful storytelling that Mathus is known for and jaw dropping musical variety, Mathus and his band capture lightning in a bottle and transport the listener through the south on a musical journey that grabs a hold, demands attention and doesn’t let up for the entire album.