Earache Records [Release date 13.10.17]
The White Buffalo – aka the West Coast based singer songwriter Jake Smith – is an artist whose musical light and shade mirrors his dichotomous view of the human psyche.
He’s both an observatory lyricist and a fictive narrator, for whom a mix of outlaw country, soulful and bluesy arrangements are an adjunct to his lyrics, which range from the noir filled to the heartfelt.
His lyrical and musical contrast is writ large in the aptly titled ‘Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights’, as his search for the middle ground takes him into the darkest corners of the human psyche, but also touches the deepest emotions.
He opens with the leisurely count-in of ‘Hide And Seek’ and finishes with the metaphoric yearning of ‘I Am The Moon’, as he takes us on a musical journey that reveals different layers of the songwriter himself.
He’s offers dark, but perceptive stories and irony filled narratives, counterweighted by compassion and love. Such is his lyrical self confidence that he thinks nothing of shifting his focus from the uplifting feel of ‘Avalon’ to the sharply contrasting Tom Waits style deconstruction of ‘Robbery’, voiced over a descending bass line and an atmospheric tremolo.
There’s also ‘Nightstalker Blues’, a tale about the “summer of Satan’” and a So-Cal serial killer, as he rocks out in a harp-led bluesy vein on a mixed back song that focuses on the wall of sound rather than instrumental separation.
And it’s his contrasting subject matter – voiced in a gruff baritone over a shifting musical backdrop – that makes this album more interesting than the usual run of the mill country rock-into-Americana style album
On ‘Avalon’ he evokes both Michael Stipe and Springsteen, while his Stipe style quaver also gives the country twang of ‘Border Town/Bury Me In Baja’ enough emotional depth to make it a notable highlight.
The Boss also looms large on the splendidly titled, live in the studio ‘The Heart And Soul Of The Night’. Smith’s poetic imagery and a sense of a bigger picture serves him well, as he sings: “And that what’s the weekend’s for, searching for the heart and soul of the night.”
His songs move from detached pessimism to first person heartfelt acoustic ballads such as ‘The Observatory’. He digs deep for emotion and feel with cleverly crafted paradoxical lyrics, while ‘I Am The Moon’ comes with a full string arrangement and some close to the mic baritone phrasing.
Smith’s willingness to expose his own fragility draws the listener in and offers a perfect book-end to the album. It also suggests that beneath the sometimes brash exterior, there’s an expressive lyricist and emotive singer who is unafraid to cut through the grey and dive into the ‘Darkest Darks’ and ‘Lightest Lights.’ ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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