[8 April 2014]
The White Buffalo is thenom de plume of Jake Smith, who has built a career out of writing spare, elegiac songs and performing them with a minimum of fuss but a good deal of feeling. Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways is quiet little masterpiece, a 14-song cycle detailing the ups and downs of a young couple named Joe and Jolene. Over the course of the album, the couple gets tattoos of each others’ names, Joe goes to war and comes back a different man, the couple commits and things fall apart. More important than the events of their lives is the White Buffalo’s presentation of them, which is by turns mournful, bitter, celebratory and shellshocked. The sounds here are firmly in the folkie/Americana wheelhouse, but this work is too singular to fit comfortably into those demarcations or any others. Whether it’s the jaunty fingerpicking of “Joey White”, the defiant rasp of “When I’m Gone” or the quiet desperation of “Set My Body Free”, this is an album that always seems to find the perfect note. Is it a barrel of laughs? Nope. Is it worth listening to? Definitely.