Monday, July 29, 2013

Buffalo Crows - Black Tooth Grin

Buffalo Crows
Black Tooth Grin
Buffalo Rising Music

When this album came across my desk, I can’t say I was sure what to expect. The band’s name doesn’t reveal all that much about what’s contained within, and the cover didn’t have much to say either. But as they say, a book should never be judged by its cover, and I guess the same can be said about music. In all honesty, it took me a few listens to appreciate and understand what this Kurri Kurri (N.S.W., Australia) based outfit were going for on ‘Black Tooth Grin’. And even so, it’s hard to truly put down into words what Buffalo Crows actually sound like; and I don’t mean that in a negative sense. Because while Buffalo Crows have a sound that reminds you of a whole slew of different acts, the six piece outfit did manage to produce a sound that’s uniquely theirs for the most part.
Buffalo Crows (Who comprise of vocalist/rhythm/lead guitarist Richard L. Crowfoot, lead guitarists Eric Loi and Joe Barton, bassist/percussionist/backing vocalist Rob Wilson, harmonica player The Reverend Russ Redford and drummer Phantom Limb) open up the album with ‘Dark Lord Rising’, which is a slower paced blues gem that brings to mind a grinding version of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds mixed with The Cruel Sea. The production on the guitars is suitably rough and raw, but polished enough to allow the grit to stand out as a positive rather than a negative. The drums have a notable thump to them, which when combined with the bass gives the song a solid base. But while the song is impressive on the musical front, its Crowfoot’s melodically ravaged blues seeped vocals that really stand out. The combination of the gritty blues music and vocals works exceedingly well, and provide the album with a true diamond in the rough.
‘Turn To Stone’ is next and this time around the band takes an acoustic path for the most part, with the electric guitars taking a backseat. Again, the harmonica playing from Redford adds a distinctly blues like influence to proceedings to what sounds like a song that could have been penned by Mark Lanegan. With Crowfoot’s strong melodies and the effortless groove the song settles in, ‘Turn To Stone’ is another strong track, and a credit to Buffalo Crows as song writers.
But as strong as the first two cuts are on the album, the album slips a little with ‘Ghost Lament’. Although boasting some interesting ideas, the solo that introduces the song has a little too much echo effect to really stand out like it should, while Crowfoot’s vocals are delivered a little on the slow side of things, which gives the song a bit of a dragging feel. But the real problem I have with this track is around the three minute mark. There’s a weird sounding breakdown that just doesn’t work in the sound sense. Had it sounded like it was recorded at the same time as the rest of the track, the band may have been able to pass it off. But as it appears here, it sounds like a foreign recording spliced into the song to give the song a bit of contrast. Although an interesting idea, ‘Turned To Stone’ doesn’t quite work as a whole.
Next up is a cover of Badfinger’s ‘Day After Day’, which originally appeared on the 1971 album ‘Straight Up’. Buffalo Crows have stripped the song back to its bare basics, with only a few acoustic guitars accompanying Crowfoot’s vocals. They say that a good song will always work with an acoustic guitar – so it goes without saying that this song works well in acoustic form. The band has recorded a solid rendition of the classic.
‘Black Dog Song’ sees a return to the gritty/blues rock sound of the opener, which is a welcome return to the sound that fits best with what the group do best, while the acoustic based and moody ‘Man King Of Blood’ is more in line with ‘Turn To Stone’, albeit with a darker undertone, and a memorable solo in the middle to really give the song something special to stand out amongst the rest.
‘Pete Ham’ (A song that is based on the late Badfinger vocalist song-writer) is O.K., but a little too lightweight and hampered by same wavering lines from Crowfoot on the vocal front, while the closer ‘Alex’ finishes the album on a high note, with Crowfoot’s delivery out front sounding more at ease and in line with the music, and the brief hits of lead guitar sounding reminiscent of Stone Gossard.
Overall, Buffalo Crows have put together a thoroughly enjoyable release with ‘Black Tooth Grin’. No, not everything on the album works, and the band still haven’t quite nailed a consistent sound. But if the band continues to work on their strengths (And there’s plenty on show here), they could well be an act to keep an eye out for.

For more information on Buffalo Crows, check out - http://www.triplejunearthed.com/buffalocrows

© Justin Donnelly