One of the biggest criticisms of mainstream country music is the lack of storytelling through the music. In fact you could pretty much say this for the majority of mainstream music in any genre. Storytelling though isn’t a lost art to many independent and Americana artists, including Americana artist Jake Smith aka The White Buffalo. In an interview with the LA Times earlier this summer, Smith had this to say about storytelling:
“A song should take you on a journey, to touch you in a place that’s honest. I don’t think a lot of people write like that anymore. Pop music is just fluff and ‘bitches’ and money… But I want every word to do something, to mean something.”
The White Buffalo is clearly an artist who has no problem going to the beat of his own drum and doesn’t let trends dictate his sonic style. He’s rose to higher prominence in recent years due to being featured on the hit television show Sons of Anarchy numerous times, so if you’re a fan of this show I’m sure you’ve heard him sing. His voice is definitely a dynamic one as he can hit the high notes and low notes with ease. This is definitely evident on his new album just released today, Love and The Death of Damnation.
“Dark Days” starts off Love and the Death of Damnation. It’s a rowdy song about a man reflecting back on his darker days and moving on from them nowadays. He knows he no longer needs the things from his dark days and that brighter ones are ahead. The Western-inspired “Chico” follows. It’s about a man named Chico who pisses off a man and causes him to get his ass kicked. This causes Chico to retreat to south of the border. Eventually the man finds himself in a situation with Chico again and this time it’s south of the border, in Chico’s territory. And this time the man is forced to retreat. The story being told in the song offers some intriguing lessons.
The third song on the album, “Go The Distance,” is my least favorite track by far on the record. It’s a song about a man professing his love for his woman. The problem I have with this song is the lyrics. At one point in the song The White Buffalo says to his girl, that she’s not only his woman, “but a piece of ass.” It’s said in positive manner, but it just completely turns me off from wanting to hear the rest of the song. It just comes off as clumsy and immature, as there were hundreds of others way this sentiment could have been conveyed without sounding like a sexist prick. “Radio With No Sound” is one of the softest and tender tracks on the album. The song is about a child who grew up with a mother that didn’t show much interest or care towards him. The child grows up to resent his mother for her treatment and becomes a man who drinks himself to death. It’s a heartbreaking tale that The White Buffalo really tells well and shows he definitely he has the storytelling chops. The stripped back production really helps emphasize the great lyrics even more.
The White Buffalo finds a home in the arms of the woman he loves in “Home Is In Your Arms.” It’s a solid all-around love song. Folk rock artist Audra Mae joins The White Buffalo on “I Got You.” The man says he may not have a lot of brains or other things, he knows he’s got his woman and that’s good enough for him. And that’s good enough for this woman too. They may have some complains about each other, but they know they belong together. Mae and Buffalo’s voices both have a rougher quality about them, so they gel well together. “Modern Times” is a short and mid-tempo song about a man who feels he doesn’t belong in modern times.
The White Buffalo slows it down again with “Last Call To Heaven.” It’s a dark and gritty song about a man in a dark place asking for help. The haunting violins really set the mood for the song and highlight the darkness of the song. It’s one of the more intriguing songs on the album. “Where Is Your Savior” is a song that grapples with faith and redemption. The story told here is fine, I just thought it could have been even better because I felt like I should have connected to it more and I didn’t. Maybe a little more emotion would have brought the song up a notch. Perhaps it’s a song I just need to keep listening to and I’ll connect with it eventually. Nevertheless, it’s still a solid song that tells a story that draws you in. This is followed by “Rocky,” a rowdy little tune with great instrumentation. I found this to be one of the catchier songs on the album, a credit to the guitar play throughout this song.
Love and The Death of Damnation closes out with “Come On Love, Come On In.” It’s arguably the best song on the album too. It’s about a man seeking love in his life and features The White Buffalo’s best vocal performance of the album. It’s a very gospel influenced song, as an organ plays throughout the song and a backing choir also has a heavy presence. While a majority of the album sees The White Buffalo sticking to a gritty rock-based sound, this song is more soulful and happy. And The White Buffalo seems to sound better with this sound. It’s definitely the most memorable song on the album.
The White Buffalo lives up to his word of making the music about storytelling with Love and The Death of Damnation. Every song on this album tells a story, whether small or big. There isn’t any fluff as he would say. The storytelling aspect of his artistry really shines its brightest on “Radio With No Sound” and “Come On Love, Come On In,” two songs that are absolute must-listens from this album. It’s also important I point out again how dynamic The White Buffalo’s voice is, as upon first listen you may underestimate it. But he really proves through the album he’s capable of singing almost anything, whether it’s something gritty like “Dark Days” or soulful like the aforementioned “Come On Love, Come On In.” The only song I disagreed with on the album was “Go The Distance.” Other than that this is a very good album and it’s definitely worth checking out. The White Buffalo is an artist you need to know and a shining example of great Americana music.