Buffalo Clover’s Strong Medicine EP

One of the joys of life on the East side of Music City is that I’m always stumbling on new music not only from my city, but from my neighborhood. Recently a friend turned me onto an EP by a band I’d never heard, Buffalo Clover. Before listening I wanted to get an idea what to expect, so I headed over to their website and started looking around.

Buffalo Clover (Photo: Scott Simontacchi)

There were two things I saw there that made me nervous. For starters, they are described as “Nashville’s most eclectic band”. This filled me with trepidation, because I know it can’t be true and was worried the band themselves might believe it. I was also taken aback when I read that they call their music “Roots Music.” Any music called Roots, including one of my favorite genres, roots reggae, is an explicit misconception – only a primitively fundamental kind of music should be called “Roots”. I knew that Buffalo Clover probably wasn’t chanting, slapping their thighs or drumming on tree trunks, so I tried to interpret “Roots Music” as what it might mean to students of Americana, a style that relies on its own styles and conventions far from the roots of music.

Of course I can’t hold any of that against Buffalo Clover. Despite my reservations about their PR material, I was anxious to hear the Strong Medicine EP. After a week of daily listens Fool’s Gold stood out as the strongest song on the EP. It has the elemental arrangement of an old country song, with slide on steel in the background and haunting background ahhs in the chorus akin to the spooky ghost train records of the 1950′s. The choppy guitar rhythm through the verse opens up into a pleasant picking pattern through the chorus and singer Margo Price‘s vocal sounds warm and strong when she stays in her lower register. The line “Don’t try to hide who you are anymore” sounds sincere. The drums, especially the snare, have a a softer, more muted sound similar to the old drum kits used in gypsy camps or carnival bands.

Another highlight was the single Midnight Circus, though it has to be said that it may be better live than on record. The song is basically a party anthem. You know the formula: let people know there’s a party, introduce who’s involved and remind everyone of the fleeting nature of fun. It would work well at a live show, where the audience wants to be reminded they are indeed at a party and that it is, in fact, kicking. Unfortunately for me, my position was as a listener wanting a recap of what happened to our Midnight Circus pals at the event. I was left hanging because after the stage was set and the characters introduced, the story just stopped. That said, the song has a great rolling rhythm section, an energetic sense of forward momentum, an interesting transitive construction from the end of the chorus through a sort of pre-verse and back into the verse, and an open-skied instrumental jaunt with accordions and guitars and led by what sounds to be our best pal, la mandolina. I also love the final chorus, where Price hits her high register and blasts the song out of a cannon and into an uplifting instrumental ending.

Midnight Circus by Buffalo Clover on Vimeo

Some of the other tracks like Over the Weather didn’t stand out as much. The arrangement doesn’t do much to hide its formulaic structure, and the melody and lyrics don’t cover much ground until about 2/3 of the song is over. I do enjoy the slide guitar solo and how they close out the song with the drums kicking out and the pulsating guitar carrying the mood through to the end. In 15 Reasons, I found a similar instrumentation to Fool’s Gold, but without the finesse and dynamics in structure or playing. There wasn’t much to hold my attention until a little more than halfway through the tune when a few playful bars of an acoustic guitar flit in. For the most part, the song plods forward like a buffalo without much change, and though there may be a kernel of truth to the lyrics, they feel contrived.

Some folks may not see the importance of song order in this day of MP3s and song shuffling, but 20 Tons of Blues is an example of how a little change of position could have gone a long way. With the heavy stomp of the main guitar riff and drum beat, a vocal delivery reminiscent of Tom Petty, and both an organ solo and a guitar solo, it’s from more of a blues/rock tradition than the other songs and injects a whole other side of Americana into the mix. As the last track it ended up being a welcome change of sound and mood, where if it had been placed somewhere amid the other tracks it could have created a more eclectic experience in general.

Overall, I enjoyed Strong Medicine. It uses instrumentation, vocal style and song format to cleverly pull on my nostalgia strings. Buffalo Clover may not be as eclectic as their marketing makes them sound, but I definitely recommend checking out the EP, which you can hear for free on their website.

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