White Buffalo Woman Isn’t The Most Original Act To Play The Melody Inn, But They Love What They Do and They Do It Right.
Let’s face it, it’s becoming more and more difficult to do something new with the blues. After all, it’s a genre that’s been around since at least the early 1900s, probably much longer. The roots go deep, but perhaps the tree can grow no more. Even so, blues endures. Just as its originators meant it to. It endured here in Indianapolis on March 7th, when White Buffalo Woman performed at the Melody Inn. The result was a rousing performance that kept the music in the proper spirit, even if it didn’t create anything new.
White Buffalo Woman, a Brief History
White Buffalo Woman came together in the basement of a Canton, OH funeral home. An origin which had no discernable influence on their sound at all. Just as well, it’s unlikely any of them were suited to goth rock and other similarly gloomy genres.
Their history is not particularly long. White Buffalo Woman formed in 2010, with their second album, Foolish Hearts, coming out earlier this year. Since then, they have been on tour to promote said album.
If there’s a place in Indianapolis suitable for blues, punk, or any of the grittier genres of toady, it’s the Melody Inn. This is not to say it’s perfect, mind you, it does tend to oversell the gritty aesthetic just a bit. However, it’s all in good fun.
White Buffalo Woman shared the bill with two local bands, Sidewalk Souls and the Superchief Band. I did not see Sidewalk Souls, unfortunately, because I had to leave the Melody Inn unexpectedly. I hasten to add that I left under my own power, there were no angry bouncers involved. Anyway, the Superchief Band acquitted themselves well. In particular, the lead singer had the kind of voice that fosters jealousy in people that haven’t shared in his good fortune.
As does the lead singer of White Buffalo Woman as it turns out. He understands where the growls ought to go, when to wail rather than sigh. All, if nothing else, essential for the proper practice of the blues. Moreover, White Buffalo Woman understands that the blues cannot sound clean if you want to play it with feeling. By which I mean, of course, if you want to play it at all.
And play they did. WBW’s set list was not long, but the Melody Inn rolled and tumbled. They knew what the guitars hanging off their necks were for, and used them accordingly. Their blues was of the up-tempo, electric variety. Very danceable, even if there wasn’t anywhere to dance.
There were there songs in particular that stuck out for me. The first, “Love Resolution”, was a slow-paced groove with contemporary alt-rock flavor, which showcased the singer’s range. The chorus, sung in harmony by the entire band, is sure to get stuck in your head. The second was one I had not been expecting to hear at all: a cover of John Mayall’s “The Witchdoctor”. White Buffalo Woman did a great job with that one, effectively harnessing the song’s primal energy and making it their own. The third song was the second to last in their set. Unfortunately, I never managed to learn its name. A real shame too, as it was a rip-roaring Southern Rock number in the general style of the Allman Brothers. If you can channel that kind of energy on stage, you’re going in the right direction.
In terms of genre, White Buffalo Woman does not actually play a pure blues. This is not meant as a criticism, of course. Especially not since the blues is itself a fusional genre, making any discussion of purity like a broken pencil. Pointless, in case you were wondering. What they play instead is a mixture of the blues as it was in the 1960s and Southern Rock. Basically, imagine a combination of Muddy Waters and the John Fogarty, and you should come close to their genre classification. Even So, they’re not afraid to stretch themselves. Some of their songs, particularly “Love Resolution” have a more alt-rock sound than they doe a blues one. However, they tend to stick pretty close to the blues regardless.
And this is perhaps what hampers them. Their songs are patchwork quilts of long-recognized blues motifs. That is to say, many of the melodies and riffs that I heard, I recognized from elsewhere. They were just remixed, for lack of a better term, into new songs. Now, is this a bad thing? Well, yes and no. Yes, because it’s a little lacking in the creativity department. No, because it’s done skillfully and with great respect for the material. And respect is what matters.
Final Verdict: White Buffalo Woman is certainly above-average, even if they could use a little more originality. I look forward to seeing, and hearing, how they develop as their careers advance.
Keep listening, everyone.