Year of the Buffalo – Roam Free – Folk music alt country album of the year candidate

A little bit of what we might call folk, a slice of what we might call country, and a dash of southern rock influence – we have a delicious recipe for Year of the Buffalo. With a seasoned lead vocal and a fresh, crispy backing band, Year of the Buffalo provide a sound that is tasty all year round. They will remind you of your favorite bands (like Wilco, Creedence, etc.) without sounding like them. This album Roam Free is going to make a lot of Year of the Buffalo fans. And honestly, the album is so good from start to finish that it makes my short list for album of the year.

The acapella opener “Waiting on You” is about as romantic as a track can be. It’s also the perfect opener to a phenomenal album full of great vocals and songwriting. It has hints of classic Euro-American music styles with a beautiful, profound lyrical structure. It’s a great start.

“Leo” is a folk country track with a comforting acoustic introduction. What makes the track are the incredible vocal harmonies on the chorus. It’s just a full and vibrant track. It’s both inspiring and comforting at the same time. It’s about a lion… and a man… and it’s really good.

“Maiden” is a softer, heartbreak song. It sounds more like something from Iron and Wine or William Fitzsimmons than some of the more “pop” sounding tracks on the album. That said, it’s powerful in the “wait, I really have to LISTEN to this” kind of way. Similarly “Adrift” has aesthetic country instrumentation with gorgeous ethereal vocals to fill the track. The guitar and the vocals wax and wane together, blending to make the listener feel. It’s my hunch that every listener will feel something a bit different, but it’s almost impossible not to feel something deep within.

“Mary Ann” is a wonderful storytelling folk country track. The piano might be my favorite. “Wish my pa could see me now – my mother how I miss her – When are we? When are we going home? So tired of this war…” I can’t say for sure, but it sure seems to be a soldier’s song. “Fallen comrade lost in battle yet I escaped unharmed.” It’s beautiful and well done. It provokes respect for soldiers who give so much for us all.

With a similar theme about returning home, “Coming Home” addresses a different type of person who longs for the familiar. Again channeling the style of William Fitzsimmons, the softer, sweeter vocal quality gives each lyric a bit more emphasis. The perfect song for a coffeeshop or a study playlist, it’s the picture of 21st century singer songwriter bliss. It’s simple in its melody, but complex in its overall structure. Delightful.

The dark contours of “Tennessee Man” are sure to grip all listeners. Somewhere between the blues and alt rock, it’s one of the most accomplished tracks on the entire album (which is saying something). The beat and vocals are engaging from the very start. “I buried my rifle a hundred times before, but your body kept wandering and knocking down my door.” Despite the lyric seeming to be about a zombie, it’s actually about the persistence of a pursuer. Biographical, historical, and mysterious… it’s about being an outlaw in the most esoteric, beautiful way. “How the whiskey drowns… how the whiskey pours… it keeps me coming round, and back for more…” Maybe, just maybe, it’s not about an outlaw at all…

“Poet” reminds me of “The Ballad of Curtis Lowe” by Skynrd, not because it sounds anything like it, but because it conjures the same emotion. It’s also just a beautiful, sweet track. The music is comforting and endearing. The lyrics are brilliant, conjuring an image of a wise, eloquent poet. “There’ll be no more pain in the by and by…” a lyric that bridges the gospel message at the heart of the song. “Saving souls in the by and by…” It’s a country song that (unfortunately) doesn’t fit with today’s notions of pop country music, but is some of the best country songwriting I’ve heard all year. Guitar, banjo, and killer traditional lyrics – it’s excellent.

The title track “Roam Free” is a juggernaut. Seriously, it’s a power ballad that ought to put Year of the Buffalo on the radar of every musician, music fan, and critic that remotely has interest in traditional country or folk music. The anthemic vocals and driving kickdrum make it the kind of “clap along, sing along” jam that makes for a hit. One part NeedToBreathe and another part Green River Ordinance, it’s a song that inspires exploration and a free spirit from listeners.

After a few listens through it’s easy to hear why this is an album of the year candidate. The writing is of the highest caliber on every track. The instrumentation is exceptional on every track. Perhaps my favorite part, though, is how it makes me feel to listen to these songs. I think of old friends and family. I feel my heart connect with the people I love and those I used to love. I find myself provoked to joy and sorrow, extreme happiness and some pretty dark pain. That’s what music ought to do and Year of the Buffalo does it very well. Give the album a spin, especially fans of alt country and folk country. There’s no easy “sounds like” band, but fans of quality musicianship will find something to love on Roam Free.

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