Once again this writer’s musical synapses whir into action to come up with another classic americana album. And once again the hardest part is defining classic. This time the definition is to seek an album that blends a broad mix of the musical sub-genres that constitute americana with a sense of community, equality and an urge to make the world a better place. If this all sounds a bit hippy then that’s fine because the band is Donna the Buffalo and the album is ‘Rockin’ In The Weary Land’.
Founded by Tara Nevins and Jeb Puryear in 1989 DTB have a following who call themselves The Herd. DTB is a lifestyle, americana’s answer to the Grateful Dead. They tour for much of the year, every year since they started out. From Trumansburg, New York the origins of the name are worth a mention. Apparently a friend of Nevins and Puryear suggested “Dawn Of The Buffalo.” This was misheard as “Donna The Buffalo” but the name stuck.
Nevins and Puryear have always spoken up for the underdog, not a ranting tirade but with a far more potent blend of sharp commentary and confidence in a better world. They are a roots jam band playing anything from country and rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass and old-time fiddle, cajun and zydeco and even reggae. Multi-instrumentalist, including washboard, Nevins and guitarist, Puryear and have been constants since the beginning who, with Joe Thrift, wrote most of the songs on ‘Rockin’ In The Weary Land’. Over the years other Buffalos have come and gone but this is a particularly strong line-up.
For a band whose identity is shaped so much by their shows perhaps a DTB classic album should have been a live recording but this column is not just for readers who are familiar with the artist but for those who might like to give the band a try. In that vein the classic album is the one that first attracted this writer to join The Herd. However, this fifth DTB album is widely considered their most accomplished with its eclectic range of styles, generally upbeat groove and thoughtful lyrics.
Most specifically this writer’s love of DTB began right with the album’s first track, ’Tides Of Time’. Immediately the listener is transported to one of the many festivals that regularly feature DTB. This is music for dancing to a joyful tempo with a feeling of opting out of the world into a better place. Nevins’s voice urges on that good time feel to a surging zydeco accordion, “Some day I might figure it/ Right now I’m just livin’ it.” If The Herd has a mission statement Nevins sets it out very clearly.
The beat goes on as Puryear takes over vocals on ‘Funky Side’, his psychedelic electric guitar contrasting with the old-time sound of Nevins on fiddle. On the driving ‘Mr King’ they duel again, she on accordion this time, “We got your dream Mr King, it’s in our heart.” ‘Seminole Wind’ is about the need to preserve Florida’s wetlands. At a modest 5mins 20secs DTB extend this song several times longer when performed live, Puryear’s voice warns of impending natural disaster as accordion, fiddle and electric guitar surge into this swampland call. A more straightforward country rock comes in the form of the whimsical ‘All The Time’ but as DTB slow the pace so they lure the listener deeper into their world. The spiritual ‘Sailing’ or the dreamy harmonies of ‘Life is Strange.’ “Life is strange, life is good, life is all it should be”. DTB close by leaving their live calling card, a 10 minute jam on ‘Let Love Move Me.’
Far from being a throwback to a lost hippy ideal of years gone by, in today’s fractious, shouty and intolerant world DTB’s optimism and belief in community is needed more than ever. If ‘Rockin’ In The Weary Land’ does appeal then there are several other studio albums of equally high quality, ‘Positive Friction’ being one or go straight to the double ‘Live From the American Ballroom.’ Welcome to The Herd.