The whole premise of Buffalo Blood is something quite amazing, four musicians relocating to the New Mexico desert, to live and record, while absorbing the surroundings, the culture and the history. The four musicians are Dean Owens, Neilson Hubbard, Joshua Britt, Audrey Spillman, the results are quite sublime, fifteen slices of Americana that stay with you long after the tunes are complete.
Things open with "Ten Killer Ferry Lake", which will surely get even the most mildly inquisitive heading to the Internet before a note is even heard. "Lake Tenkiller," is a reservoir in eastern Oklahoma formed by the damming of the Illinois River. The "Tenkillers" being prominent Cherokees. The song combines the voices recorded in the open air over some delicate minimalist percussion and some whistling. The themes of the treatment of the Native Americans and the buffalo are both resonant with legends of the past as much as they are with migrations in the 21st century and will reappear throughout this record repeatedly.
From there to one of the best songs from 2019 so far, "I'm Alive" comes with a deliciously delicate mandolin and a sumptuous chorus that is effortlessly brilliant, The lyrics paint their surroundings "Among the dust and the dreamcatchers" while the song references "The spirits of the past".
There is a move uptempo for "Reservations", a retelling of the injustices dealt out to the Native American from broken promises to taking away their way of life and introducing them to "Whiskey - it became our poison". Once again a prominent mandolin makes this another stand out track. The dreamy "Beneath The Golden Sky" again does a fantastic job of painting the scenery of New Mexico while a piano running through the track give it a really modern feel. Each track brings something a little different to the table "Daughter of The Sun" is an old style folky Western ballad whereas the title track "Buffalo Blood" starts with some Indian style chanting before moving into an upbeat rhythm.
"White River" gives Audrey Spillman a chance to come to the fore on a glorious ballad which mixes beautiful harmonies to lovely guitar and mandolin playing and a faint wind blowing in the background adding to the intensity of the track. A similar effect is used on the instrumental "Ghosts Of The White Horses" where the song begins with the wind blowing providing the background to a whistled tune and sporadic drum beats. Fifteen songs offering great diversity and a consistently high level of musicianship, with great ambiance created from the most minimal of instruments or an occasional whistle.
"Commanche Moon" sees the team directly take on the roles of being native Americans retelling history from their point of view, and although there are tribal rhythms running through the track there is an almost folk like feel to it in places. There is a gentle start to
War Among The Nations" and asks the pertinent question "how many had to die but we survive?" again assisted by a great chorus.
Buffalo Thunder opens to the wind blowing and then the band affecting some tribal chanting before it closes to the sound of whistling, which is highly evocative. The record closes to "Vanishing World" is a five minute appraisal of the Native American plight where the cultures and old ways are at risk, "soon to be forgotten".
The fact that this is four non Native Americans seeking to tell their story is perhaps at first a little strange but the whole project seems to have been created with such respect and reverence that will hopefully enable it to see off any critical cynicism.
To get a feel for the project, the scenery, and overall general sound here is the link to "I'm Alive" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1L_Oh0DanjM