After releasing multiple EPs over the years and several months of anxiously waiting, The White Buffalo’s full-length, Once Upon A Time In The West, is finally available for mass consumption. Released today through Unison Music Group, and although it’s only the end of February, it's safe to say that this album is easily one of the best of the year. As we’ve said multiple times, the Buffalo’s distinct gravelly voice and his majestic storytelling through his lyrics has made him one of the artists to watch in 2012 and this album confirms it.
Comprised of 13 songs, several of which were on his previous EP, Lost And Found EP, the Buffalo takes you on a journey through the roots of American music. Themes like love, life, loss, addiction, rage and redemption are tackled in the lyrics, which give the record a strong sense of urgency and take you on journey that the Buffalo’s contemporaries can’t or won’t. An example of this is on the opening track, “Ballad of a Deadman.” Backed by a haunting slide and acoustic guitar and drums, these instruments give the Buffalo’s lyrics a sense of urgency and importance. On the surface, lyrics like “Our boys are dead. We've been mislead” seem like generic angst, but when heard on the album, the singer's vocals brings the words alive and it's easy to feel the raw emotion that he feels.
The title track is more upbeat musically, but don't let that fool you. Sounding more country-meets-America (think Bob Dylan of the past decade). But the self-deprecating sense of awareness doesn’t dissipate. With lyrics like “I’m a fuck up girl, but that’s how I live my life, I’m not sure how to treat you right” are subtly stated if you concentrate solely on the music. Up-tempo on this song doesn’t mean happy.
Other highlights include another up-tempo track, “The Pilot,” the quiet “Sleepy Little Town” and my favorite, the Springsteen-meets-Hank Williams sounding “BB Guns and Dirtbikes.” Closing my eyes, I could have sworn that this was a song that The Boss wrote, and then I’d open them and think I was hearing Williams. It’s distinctly Springsteen sounding to start, then moves towards country, encapsulating everything that makes a song so badass. The song is so vivid with it’s imagery that you feel like you’re traveling through the California that Tom Joad inhabited. Being able to connect with a song that takes you to a place that’s so fictional that it’s real while understating itself is the power of strong songwriting and why the Buffalo has the rare ability to convey this in lyrics.Having known about The White Buffalo for some time, it amazes me how he hasn’t resonated with more people. With strong lyrics, intricate musicianship (shown on both fast and slow songs) and a voice that’s stronger than oak, this album should be a blueprint for the singer/songwriters who eschew the mainstream and demand that they listen to him. That’s what the Buffalo does here: he makes an album that’s too strong to ignore. It’s a shame they already remade True Grit because this would have been the perfect soundtrack. With songs already placed on Sons of Anarchy and Californication, expect to hear more from The White Buffalo sooner than later.