All I knew of this group was the enthusiastic endorsement of a fan, while standing in the middle of a Staples on a hot afternoon trying to do a dozen errands. Yeah yeah, sure sure, send along the cd. But within three seconds of turning it on, I knew I liked these folks, and was happy to finally make their acquaintance. I mean that: within three seconds, I knew these folks were the real deal.
Donna the Buffalo has been touring the bluegrass-folk-jam band circuit since 1988, hooking a growing "herd" of followers with their infectious blend of reggae, rock, country, zydeco, cajun, and folk. Likewise, Jim Lauderdale has been recording and performing country for well over a decade, and recently recorded an album with gospel legend Ralph Stanley. The combination of such established musical forces as Lauderdale and Donna, as evidenced by their new CD, Wait 'Til Spring, is a marriage made somewhere between Winterhawk and Haight Ashbury.
The opening title track kicks off with a bass run reminiscent of the Grateful Dead's Truckin, but explodes with a vernal exuberance that will put the festival grounds right in the middle of your living room. Lauderdale's voice is confident and weathered-sounds a little like Van Morrison, a little like Greg Allman-and the band's tight ensemble work and backing vocals surround him like incense smoke around a microbus.
Donna the Buffalo is one tight band, the kind that's a delight to watch on stage, with each performer knowing what the other one is thinking like a band full of Radar O'Reillys. Like a single organism they attack every mood and groove with abandon. There's sweet vocal work on Ginger Peach, with its sultry reggae groove; delicate rhythm changes in Awake Now; and most important, a willingness to all rock out at once, as on Different Kind of Lightning and the closing Wowowo. Even when a guitar or fiddle takes a solo, it's clear that the rest of the band is laying a firm foundation. They're a band that can take risks because everyone's holding the net.
And as for Jim Lauderdale, well he's had a few lessons too. He proves a passionate and inventive vocalist on such songs as Slow Motion Trouble, while mainly seeming to find the wisdom in restraint. His lyrics here sparkle with inventive imagery and rhymes. From the title song:
There's surreal, dreamlike imagery in Sapphire, apparently a story about the abduction of a jungle princess (too bad no lyric sheet); and a bit of Dylan/Byrds in the music and message of That's Not the Way It Works" and This World Is Getting Mean, with their populist, fight-the- system lyrics (especially pertinent in these parlous times of our government's erosion of the Bill of Rights for the sake of "homeland security").
Unlike other musical marriages (think "Dylan and the Dead"), both Lauderdale's and Donna's individual strengths complement each other seamlessly. As was the case with the afore- mentioned mother of all jam bands, this studio release perhaps does not quite reflect Donna the Buffalo's in-concert strengths, and at only forty-one minutes long, one suspects that there's a lot more this band can do, given a big enough stage in the middle of a big enough pasture. However, Wait 'Till Spring is an excellent place to start. Despite the summer of love cover art and flower-power graphics, Donna the Buffalo is a decidedly 21st century band, and Lauderdale is a welcome addition.
Page design by David N. Pyles