Welcome to Spring in Cincinnati - a time that rejuvenates the soul and beckons the continuation of treasured traditions: Opening Day, Zoo Babies, The Butterfly Show at Krohn Conservatory, The Flying Pig Marathon and Record Store Day, to name just a few. To me, springtime in Cincinnati means that it is time to get ready for another awesome release by Buffalo Killers.
As one of the hardest working bands around, every time Buffalo Killers enters the recording studio, they pretty much already have the album finished in their heads; and getting it down on tape is a mere formality. Likewise, every time they record, they seem to just get better and better.
For their latest album, Heavy Reverie, Buffalo Killers signed with Sun Pedal Recordings (a division of Warner Music Group) and worked alongside legendary producer Jim Wirt [Incubus, Hoobastank] at Cleveland's Crushtone Studios. (Rumor has it that Heavy Reverie was tracked on the same console that was used to produce the demos for Michael Jackson's Thriller.) While reading about the creation of Heavy Reverie, I discovered that the band took a bit of a step back in the production process and put their trust in Wirt to work his magic. This small surrender paid dividends as it allowed the musicians to focus on doing what they do best - making great music.
Buffalo Killers also made a major paradigm shift in their music this year with the addition of Sven Kahns on guitar and lap-steel. Speaking about the addition of Kahns in a March interview with the Houston Press, lead-singer Zach Gabbard told Bob Ruggiero, "It frees all of us up. When we were a three piece, there was no room to step back for a minute. I feel more relaxed, and it's given everyone else a bit more breathing room."
If the creation of Heavy Reverie was a more relaxed experience for the band, it hasn't resulted in the loss of a single ounce of energy. The first track, "Poisonberry Tide," carries on the continuum of groovy roots-rock that Buffalo Killers has been making since their first album eight years ago.
Buffalo Killers sound is expertly crafted to create a time-warp back to the early 1970's - with proto-psychedelic songs fueled by guitars that grind with deep, rich fuzz-tone and vocal harmonies perfumed by a clandestine harvest.
Speaking of psychedelics, "Grape Peel (How I Feel)" is triptastically transportive. This is probably the most 'experimental' track on the album and in it, Gabbard's guitar tone reminds me all too much of a young Ted Nugent when he performed his mind-blowing lead in Amboy Dukes' "The Journey to the Center of the Mind."
Throughout Heavy Reverie, the lyrics carry messages of an increasingly personal nature. In songs like "Cousin Todd" and "Sandbox" the narrative is almost a confessional:
Deep in my sandbox
I can hide nothing
Tales of misfortune
Stories of nothing
I'm in my sandbox
Nobody gets me
Lying in your bed
Talking 'bout nothing
Your parents don't like me
Your body excites me
Back when you knew me
Before you outgrew me.
Would I have ever written a song if not to win your love
The memory is almost gone away.
Musically, Heavy Reverie spans and expands upon the musical spectrum - from the straightforward, almost modern-sounding "Shake" to the twangy-jangling "Louder Than Your Lips" - an exploration that is very dead-head friendly in a plain-old, home-town, good-time rock-n-roll kind of way.
With songs like "Dig on In" and "Who You Are," Buffalo Killers bring the groove full-time and relentlessly. Kahns' presence in these tracks greatly adds to the bottom-end and allows Gabbard's guitar to sing - thus carrying the whole experience to another level.
All that aside, I highly recommend that you make the effort to get your hands on the bonus track from Heavy Reverie - "Don't Cry to Me." This is, in every way imaginable, my favorite song in this year's collection. It is infectious, fun, gorgeous and has a sound reminiscent of The Beatles' Rubber Soul - specifically Harrison's "Think For Yourself" and McCartney's "I'm Looking Through You."
In May, the band heads out west in support of the album and will share several dates with San Francisco's Howlin' Rain. In the meantime, please pick up your copy of Heavy Reverie and familiarize yourself with some of the best music being made in the Midwest. You can even take it with you as you enjoy some of the other things that make spring in Cincinnati such a magical time of year.