Occasionally, one song is all it takes to make an impression. When we first heard Year of the Buffalo’s “Vagabond” back in June, we began eagerly awaiting the Dayton, Ohio based quartet’s forthcoming EP. Now that “Darling Laney EP” is out, we’re more impressed than we were even a few short months ago. The six songs on “Darling Laney”, all 26 minutes of them, are an incredible introduction to the rootsy, raw folk stylings of Year of the Buffalo.
What originally began as a solo project from front man Jacob Trego, Year of the Buffalo morphed into a quartet that includes multi-instrumentalist Dan Sievers, drummer Jake Rinehart, and phenomenal female vocalist Jalee Clendenin. Jacob had every intention of recording this album as a solo project, but, after the band formed, he told us that “There really is something special about this group. What turned into just a solo project, really panned out to a group forming into a family. We feed off each other. We challenge each other. We want to be great, not for the sake of being great, but for the sake of writing music people can relate to and invest in.” It’s abundantly clear, when listening to the album, that this group, new as they may be, now how to feed off of one another to create folk music that’s both familiar and new, both layered and simple, a sound that is the product of some incredibly talented musicians all being on the same page.
“Darling Laney” begins with “Vagabond”, an acoustic song about feeling lost with nothing to hold onto. It’s a simple sounding song with harmonized vocals, a hauntingly consistent acoustic guitar, a deep piano bass line and an atmosphere that resembles the line “redemption down the barrel of a gun” quite well. It’s a song that tells the story of a lost, broken old man, but you quickly get the sense that the song is autobiographical. Trego told us that “all of the songs I wrote are about a time in my life where I just couldn’t get anything right.” This is a great beginning to album that is born of a feeling like that.
“Laney’s Lullabye”, written for a friends baby, is an incredible piece of vocal music. At just under a minute long, it’s only negative is its length. It’s a beautiful song done beautifully. “The Ballad of Robert Barlage” is another example of storytelling in the folk tradition. It’s about a person that you can picture, one that you feel like you know. Whether of not the person is real isn’t important; it’s an exercise in storytelling, the medium for a message. “Weep no more, for there will be no pain, for I am home.”
“Run, River, Run” is a slowly building song featuring a prominent mandolin, one that crescendos with the line “No other love but yours I’ve known”. With a running time of 7+ minutes, “Run, River, Run” is a song that lasts as long as it needs to. Too often bands don’t allow their music to fully develop, to fully rise and fall, but Year of the Buffalo allows “Run, River, Run” to be exactly what it needs to be. “The Day I Threw Love Away” is another calm, acoustic, introspective song. It’s rare to see the kinds of songs that are brutally honest and that share feelings that are deep and not happy. When a song begins “As I lay down beside you and I whisper your name,/ my soul it remembers the day I threw love away”, you immediately get the sense that their a depth and honesty in the songwriting and theme that is rare.
My favorite track on the album is “Widowmaker”, a song that is reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens and William Fitzsimmons. It’s background “oohs” and strong repeating banjo riff make it stand out. With lyrics to match the two songwriters mentioned (“I’ve crossed the state line a time or two,/ and I’ve crossed that same line loving you”), it’s clear that this band wears its influences on it’s sleeve and knows the sound it’s trying to achieve.
“Darling Laney” has me excited to hear more from the Dayton quartet. The only complaint I have is that the album only has 6 songs. The depth and complexity of the songs on the debut EP mislead the listener into thinking they’re listening to a much more experienced group. For this band to have created this sound in that short of a time shows that they have the talent and desire to create the kind of music that we crave, music that comes from the heart and music that’s as impactful to listen to as I’m sure it was to write.