Milwaukee's own Buffalo Gospel warms up a Wisconsin night
Buffalo Gospel is refreshingly forward in harkening back to the best times in country music. The band's music transports the listener back to a time when country and western stood alone on its own two solidly cowboy-booted feet. When Johnny, June, Patsy, Waylon, Merle and Loretta ruled the charts. When pop country meant popping the top of a beer can in a country dance hall and didn't define a sub-genre of country music.
I was fairly eager to catch the group's set on Friday night at The Back Room at Colectivo. It's reasonable to say my expectations were high as I dropped in to take in Buffalo Gospel's shortened set opening for The Deslondes.
The group didn't disappoint.
The way-too-quick, seven-song set was a balance between music from the band's freshman album "We Can Be Horses" and new music. As in brand spanking new, still wet behind the ears music from its upcoming, sophomore album "On the First Bell," set for release in May next year.
Both were beautiful.
Buffalo Gospel's old music from "We Can Be Horses" is almost so fragile that even the happiest, most even of people will feel loss listening to some songs. Friday night, the group played two that nearly cracked me. The song "Mule" hit me especially hard. The convergence of Ryan Necci's haunting lead vocals coupled with the lyrics – "the heaviest thing I carry is my heart" and "you never know a little love is all you need until a little love is all you got" is just so … achingly painful.
Also hitting home Friday night was "Hoarse as a Crow," a song about finding a home in the person you fall in love with. It's a song that'll haunt you especially if you're in the middle of letting someone go.
Whew. That said, Buffalo Gospel's music is also filled with delicious upbeat, ear snacks. My favorite was a new one, "Son of a Gun." So quick-paced and upbeat, it's almost hard to call it country swing, but it was. As the last song of their set, it had the audience at The Back Room stomping their feet and moving. Me? I was grinning ear to ear.
There seems to be a little bit of a shift from Buffalo Gospel's debut album to the new music we heard Friday. The new music is still completely within the Buffalo Gospel sound. It still totally takes you back to the best times in country music. But there is a change lyrically. "We Can Be Horses" is so very heartbroken. The new music, at least what the band played tonight, is more whole, less broken.
And, I mean, it's not totally surprising. A lot happened to influence the lyrics and music on "We Can Be Horses." Ryan Necci, lead singer and main song writer, told me that he'd gone through a brutal divorce. He admits that the story of loss and hitting rock bottom is all over that album. When I asked if he'd healed, Ryan replied that he'd remarried and couldn't be happier.
But still, it's been a long road to getting to writing and laying tracks for "On the First Bell." After Buffalo Gospel's freshman album dropped, founding member Josh Tovar tragically passed away after a long illness. Tovar, who Necci describes as an incredible guy, great family man and one of his favorite musicians, was influential in Necci's writing. He was also a great friend. After he passed, Ryan notes that a lot of wind was taken out of his already slack sails. He stopped performing for the most part.
After a year of getting his feet back under him, the band started to record "On the First Bell." It's an album that seems to have the earmarks of a one of those records you'll listen to over and over again, put away for a while, listen to again and wonder why you ever put it away. To wit, it's a success in waiting.
Buffalo Gospel is coming back to Milwaukee on Dec. 22 at Anodyne. I'll be there. You should be, too.
"High Time to Hang Fire"
"Hill Outside My Home"
"Hoarse as a Crow"
"Son of a Gun"
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