Mad Buffalo,
Red & Blue
(independent, 2012)

Mad Buffalo is not a band but the name under which Randy Riviere (pronounced "Revere") tours and records. The pseudonym is not the only way the man guards his privacy. No photograph of him adorns the CD package (or that of his previous release, Wilderness, which I reviewed in this space on 15 November 2008), nor does his website offer up any image of his person. For all you and I know, we may have passed Riviere on the street and been none the wiser. Too bad. From the evidence of his music, he seems like an interesting and intelligent guy who'd be worth, at the least, a cup of coffee's or a beer's worth of conversation.

His last disc struck me as inspired by a fuller-bodied take on the California country-rock of a few decades ago. Red & Blue doesn't, even if like its predecessor it feels as if it's lurking at the door of folk music while mostly not turning the knob. The folk revival appears to have passed by Riviere's listening experience. Except for the exquisite "Big Joe Walker," Riviere's sense of tradition is not the one communicated through the actual folk music of oral transmission. Though unmistakably set in place and landscape, it's more personal, observational and abstract, with a political sensibility expressed in subtle and tactful tones as opposed to full-throated Seegerese. Possibly, that's because Riviere lives in rural Montana, where he once worked as a wildlife biologist. Out in the Western red states (the far-eastern border of which sits just a few miles from where I live), they don't cotton much to liberals, to -- as perhaps they'll figure out one of these days -- their own cultural, economic and environmental disadvantage.

Anyway, musically speaking, on Red & Blue Riviere owes more to Neil Young than to anyone or anything else. The melodies are straightforward and unfancy, and the lyrics are elegantly composed and, unlike Young's, always coherent. That is, to the extent that you can hear them; they're sometimes muffled even in the skeletally arranged electric and acoustic guitars, drums and occasional banjos and mandolins. A lyric sheet would have helped. Riviere sings them in a warm, weathered tenor which like his melodies and lyrics is without flourish or pretense.

I liked Wilderness, and I like Red & Blue almost as much. The test, as always for me, is how often I want to hear something, and this is one to which I have happily returned, freshly rewarded on each occasion. I wish, though, that the disc were longer than a skimpy eight cuts.

music review by
Jerome Clark

10 March 2012

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