Eel Pie Records
Haunting and Majestic Songs of America’s Ghosts.
There is something to be said about getting inspiration from traveling to specific locales. And when you’re an artist, sensitive to the spiritual vibrations resonating from within certain spaces where the emotions have run high, you can — hopefully — tap into that energy and gain insight and revelation to events, people, and feelings from another time.
Imagine an author writing about a haunted house while staying inside a supposedly haunted house. Or a painter working on his art while setting up in the very same spots where Vincent Van Gogh created some of his iconic paintings. It is thought by some that some spaces soak up the emotions and thoughts of the beings that resided there, just waiting for the correct energy to show up, to release them from within their patient waiting, to bring light to their darkness. Different places have different emanating energies.
There is a lot of spiritual energy residing in the canyons and rocky plains of New Mexico. A lot of history, a lot of ghosts to inhabit those wide open spaces and wide screen horizons. Now imagine a group of musicians and songwriters traveling along the Trail of Tears, a pilgrimage of sorts, to write and record songs influenced by Native American culture, specifically the feelings of loss, abandonment, and cruelty brought on by “civilization.” There is a kinship here between this album and Mary Gauthier’s Rifles and Rosary Beads, another album about hard truths with no easy answers.
This is Buffalo Blood, an album by Neilson Hubbard, Dean Owens, Joshua Britt, Audrey Spillman, and James DeMain whose work together on this fine collection of songs and sounds are exemplary to say the least. These songs were written in the dry heat of the desert canyons of New Mexico, on Georgia O’Keefe’s aptly named Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, in the shadows of historic La Plaza Blanca. If you listen closely, you can hear the occasional bird or the shifting of the wind caught on these recordings as they were all recorded outside in these haunting, beautiful, stark places. What they have crafted here is new folk songs utilizing guitar, mandolin, and some excellent percussion, tied to haunting vocals, and thrilling, spot-on whistling. That’s right, I said whistling. And this ain’t no Spaghetti Western rip-off, either, this is true blue, dyed in the wool, horseback riding, deep in the canyons type of whistling where the echo bounces back at you and hits you in your gut. The real deal. Just like the percussion on this album, probably my favorite ingredient on the whole thing. You don’t need a standard drum kit when you have percussion this simple, strong, decisive. The beat of the drums here is the backbone of the continent. The majestic chanting is the spirits of the land given voice.
It’s difficult to find a favorite song here. “Ten Killer Ferry Lake” is ghostly wails amidst wind on the rocks (I’m thinking this one was recorded at night, under a multitude of stars, you can hear the sand being blown into the mics. I hope this was recorded like this, even if not, I’m going to continue to imagine it was, because it just feels so right.) “Reservations” concerns itself with the plight of the modern day descendants of those who walked the Trail of Tears, pulling no punches with its language: “White men wanted everything, white men never listened to us, now our way of life is gone… ” and “Many things were said, treaties signed and broken, buffalo days are dead and gone… ” “Comanche Moon” picks up where that song left us, not exactly bitter, but not broken either. “Buffalo Thunder” begins with whistling wind and a far off desert storm before harmonized wordless chanting and ominous whistling disappears into the reverb. But my favorite song here might just be “Daughter of the Sun,” a desert fable dressed in a simple, heartfelt melody. This one reads as if it’s as old as the hills it was recorded in, a true testament to the musicians involved.
I’m loving the focus given to these songs, the stark detail, the willingness of the musicians and production team to leave themselves emotionally open to the experiences required to bring this album to life.
Review Courtesy Roy Peak esq.
Released 15th Feb 2019