Friday, June 11; Union Station
Donna the Buffalo is a damn good band, perhaps the great missing link between zydeco, bluegrass, rock & roll, reggae and whatever it was the Grateful Dead did. Like the Dead, they can get lost in meandering guitar jams that sometimes push the boundaries of ecstasy and sometimes fall somewhere short of that. They also seem to come from the same background, the world of old-time/bluegrass music. Most impressive, they don't see any reason to stick to narrow genre boundaries and have never met an approach to song that can't be adapted to their particular sound. And although the Grateful Dead never did much zydeco, they would have appreciated the willingness to use that genre as an essential root of a new rock form.
If you're not a fan of the Dead, fear not; Donna the Buffalo transcends the jam band tag so popular now, but if that doesn't sway you, you can listen for yourself at www.donnathebuffalo.com: The site features about 20 different live concert recordings just sitting there waiting to be downloaded. You can fall in love with Donna the Buffalo more quickly, though, if you give a listen to last year's Rockin' in the Weary Land (Sugar Hill), their fifth album. Here, with a chance for the band to hone their craft in the studio, songwriting is on display. Jeb Puryear and Tara Nevins may not be the most creative lyricists around, but there's no getting around the catchiness of their melodies and the unbeatable drive of their rhythm tracks.
Fiddler/vocalist Nevins has just released an even better solo album, Mule to Ride, that sticks a little closer to the normal country/bluegrass sounds of the Sugar Hill label. Guest appearances by Ralph Stanley and Mike Seeger prove that she's respected in the right places, but most impressive are her songs (fellow DtheB member Jim Miller sings half the songs on this one); her take on the Melodians classic "Sweet Sensation" (familiar to UB40 fans from their Labour of Love album) is transcendently beautiful, maybe the best thing on a nearly perfect album. (SP)
Saturday, June 12; Off Broadway
Truck-driving songs are a lot cooler than you think. Just because you've been exposed to one too many spins of C.W. McCall's "Convoy" or Red Sovine's "Teddy Bear" doesn't mean that all big-rig material is as filled with stale air as the brakes on a Peterbilt. Take the work of Dale Watson -- the honkiest, tonkiest, truck-drivingest country singer you're likely to hear these days. Last year he released The Truckin' Sessions, an album filled with humor-and loneliness-laced songs such as "Good Luck 'n' Good Truckin' Tonite," "Loose Nut Behind the Wheel," and "I'm Fixin' to Have Me a Breakdown." But Watson's no newbie to the 18-wheeler epic -- he's been recording songs like "Truckin' Man," "Truck Stop in La Grange," and "Jack's Truck Stop & Cafe" throughout his career on his albums Blessed or Damned, Cheatin' Heart Attack and the quizzically titled I Hate These Songs. Watson does plenty of drinkin' and cheatin' songs, too, of course, but the Texas-based singer is so taken with the truckin' life that he's even been known to perform at truck stops now and again, where, no doubt, he can have a cup o' joe, commiserate with his well-traveled cronies (and target audience), and see what's in the tape rack for $3.99. He may be a throwback of sorts, but God bless him for it. Because country music isn't much country any more, someone's got to carry the torch, and it might as well be him. He closes the Twangfest music festival (see p. 71). Hey, Dale? Keep on truckin,' man. (DD)
Contributors: Daniel Durchholz, Steve Pick