Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The White Buffalo Is Lost And Found

After a decade of hard drinking and harder touring, The White Buffalo, the throwback folk rock three piece from Southern California, have plenty to look forward to in 2012. With an album due out this year, the ever-talented, always haggard sounding singer-songwriter Jake Smith continues to improve with age.

No surprise, even if he never intended to become a songwriter or musician. Writing songs was just something he did in his spare time while still in high school. Eventually, friends  encouraged him to play live gigs, which he booked by calling up venues direct and leaving short voicemail messages of his songs. It was enough, at least at the start.

"The whole point of my songwriting is taking people on an emotional journey, like a mini-movie." says Smith. "Most of my songs capture snippets of life and some broader pictures."

As Smith grew more confident, he started making tapes for friends and family around the holidays. And it was those tapes that suddenly began to circulate across California. Eventually, producers of the 16MM Woodshed Films surf documentary Shelter asked Smith if they could include one of his songs for their compilation. It was enough.

Lost And Found is five tracks of cross-genre folk rock from Jake Smith. 

The soulful, gritty, and emotive songwriting of Jake Smith combines folk, country, rock, and blues while improbably staying true to the roots of each. The Darkside Of Town, which is the third of five tracks, captures Smith explicitly, with its crystal, purposeful acoustic guitar and lamenting, contemplative vocal work.

The songwriting is perfectly crafted, as Smith sings about fatefully wandering to the dark side of town, not because it's necessarily what he wants to do but because it is in his nature. The fifth track on the EP, Wish It Was True, carries the same meditative qualities as Smith carries on while reminiscing about everything his parents wanted to be.

Sometimes, though, we just come up short. As the lament closes, we catch of sense of Smith's meaning as the life begins to flicker and fade a solider, conflicted over what he had do. It's easily one of one of Smith's most powerful compositions. Expect it to stick in your head.

Not everything on Lost And Found is downtrodden. Insane features some campy, feel-good picking with a Southern country and blues fusion. Smith growls out the vocals with Tommy Andrews (bass) and Matt Lynott (drums) laying down a swampy instrumental bed worthy.

All three contrast with the indie folk rock of The Pilot. Smith keeps the swampy flavor, but The Pilot makes for a great foot stomp open for the EP. It's also the best track to lead into Every Night Every Day, which is clearly good old boy country from beginning to end.

The evolution of Jake Smith has made for an extraordinary decade.

Smith has matured perfectly since his earliest days. While he always produced a great body of cross-genre music as a songwriter over the last decade, Lost And Found carries a tightness to the writing that has raised the bar for this artist.

If you ever have a chance to see him live, especially outdoors, don't hesitate. We found a clip of the song Damned from his last full length. It perfectly captures his stage presence while also illustrating how (as good as Damned is) his new material is more confident and even better.

What makes Lost And Found even more engrossing is there isn't a wasted word on any track, as if Smith doesn't seem satisfied with singing well-composed lyrics anymore. He owns every tune so much that even the songs that aren't personally about him feel like they might as well be.

That includes the more unexpected romp, Insane, which he delivers as lively as a younger Tom Waits while as purposeful as a less seasoned Johnny Cash. And at this rate, I wouldn't be surprised if his name eventually stands right beside those legendary artists.

The White Buffalo's Lost And Found EP Tramples At 8.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Expect this year to undoubtedly be one of the biggest for The White Buffalo. Smith's voice became especially familiar last year as he lent his talents to Sons Of Anarchy. The fourth season includes a new cover of The House Of The Rising Sun (with the Forest Rangers).

Lost And Found by The White Buffalo can be found on iTunes. You can also find the  EP on Amazon. Although Lost And Found is better, we noted that Barnes & Noble still has a digipack from the 2010 EP Prepared For Black & Blue. Black & Blue is undoubtedly the best song on that one whereas all five tunes are perfect on Lost And Found.
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