Every once and a while, a band or artist finds the perfect moniker to label them and their style. When I found out the Ray Lamontagne had an older album titled One Lonesome Saddle, I thought to myself, “Well, that just about perfectly sums up the sound, philosophy, and presence of Ray Lamontagne.” In a similar vein, we have The White Buffalo, a singer-songwriter that screams Old West with his stories and his voice. Both gruff, vocally and lyrically, and also tender, these songs about people both historical and present are sung in such a way you almost feel as if he’s lived all of these stories.
The liner notes to this album contain an intro of sorts written by the artist stating that this is “the story of Joe and Jolene, a pair of young outsiders thrust together by chance, forging a deep, emotionally charged relationship that would at once haunt and sustain them throughout their lives… It is ultimately a story of hope and the power of love.” It’s a perfect description of the rawness and emotion of this album, captured in both lyrics and music.
The album begins with “Shall We Go On”, a song about two people falling in love, written in a way that’s more honest than most love songs. “He took her by the hand,/ Helpless within his command,/ He ripped her heart right out of her chest,/ And put it with his.” It’s perfectly written and it perfectly captures the couple that this album is about. The second track, “The Getaway,” is, in my opinion, the most beautiful and the most haunting song on Shadows, Greys and Evil Ways. “Everything will be all right by my side./There ain’t a word in my mind to describe,/ You and I.”
The middle of this album tells of Joe, a man who goes off to war and comes back a different man, someone that loves, but someone that’s damaged. The relationship that existed when he left is in pieces and he’s gotta rebuild it from the beginning. This album is a story, one that is hard to hear but reflects the sad, but true situation that so many couples face today. It’s a haunting picture of two people that love each other despite all the awful things that they do to each other and are done to them. To quote specific lyrics would be to lessen the impact of listening to these songs as a whole portrait of the turmoil of this relationship.
One interesting song in the middle that certainly applies to the overarching theme of the album, but takes on a life of its own with its universality is “This Year”. It’s a song that begins at New Years and talks about how the singer feels, constantly, the juxtaposition of his life, seemingly unchanging, and the steady changing of seasons. It’s an interesting comparison, one that begs the question “Can we force ourselves to change for the better?” It’s hard not to be affected by the lyrics “I’ve done wrong, I’ve done right./ That’s clear./ Maybe I’ll get better, maybe I’ll be different,/ This year.”
The White Buffalo is an incredibly talented songwriter and a gifted musician. With a voice like his and a style that sets him apart from every other guy with a guitar, Shadows, Greys and Evil Ways is another feather in the cap of a man that has already written and made so much great music. This album has cemented him as one of the premier story tellers in music today.