This is a moment for which I’ve been waiting for some time now. And, though I do not want to be melodramatic, I am worried that I’m not ready. I am worried that I won’t do this project the justice it deserves. I know—I know, you already think I’m gushing. But let me explain…
You see, a Buffalo Gospel (BG) album is not like others. It just isn’t. For, in our overly-inundated sea of free-streaming tunes and infinite albums on-tap, a Buffalo Gospel album is something altogether different. It stands alone. It’s something to be anticipated. It’s something worth waiting for. And, ultimately, in our disposable, who’s next, throw’em away culture, a Buffalo Gospel album is something to be cherished. So, I’m worried, you see. And, I hope I’m up for task. Lord knows I’ve been waiting, watching, and anticipating. So here goes…
It’s been a country-minute since we first fell in love with and reviewed the work of this Milwaukee-based country/Americana outfit. Currently composed of Ryan Necci (songwriting, lead vocals, guitar), Kevin Rowe (bass), Nick Lang (percussion), Michael Rossetto (multi-instrumentalist), and Andrew Koenig (guitar), we last spoke of them in our review of their 2013 masterpiece, We Can Be Horses, a gut-wrenching, boot-stomping and altogether transfixing collection of songs which could justifiably be argued is one of the greatest country albums of our time. (Take a listen before you scoff.) For us, here at The Ark of Music, the result of that review was to simply label Necci’s crew of outlaws as, “…country music’s best kept secret.”
As a musician, as well as a music critic, I did not offer that opinion casually or lightly. And I’m aware that there are likely critics out there that have never made such a proclamation about anyone. Almost as if they’re afraid to get caught in their own opinion. Or, perhaps, it’s simply “uncool” to be witnessed being so excited about anything in such a permanent and public capacity. Either way—I don’t give a shit. So be it. Their loss.
Now, back to my point. Here’s the thing: This is not some juvenile fancying of some random album; I’ve also seen Buffalo Gospel live—where they’re even better. I’ve seen what Necci and company do to a crowd who came for the feature act, but then ultimately left the bar, in love with the opener. So now, onward to their latest effort, the sometimes rambunctious, sometimes tragic, and always reflective, On the First Bell.
HERE’S WHAT WE DUG MOST…
Opening with the album’s title track, On the First Bell, the melody builds slowly with fiddle, mandolin, and Necci’s tale of the darkness endured in small-town life, and the redemption that occurs when getting out. The song’s chorus is a burst of light and harmony, the likes of which we’ve never previously seen from BG. More, please.
“…anywhere’s better than where we been
Well, on the first bell—we run…”
—On The First Bell
Son Of A Gun is as country as it gets. (I’m talking real country—not whatever that stuff is on the radio.) This hard-life confessional is a full-on quick-stepper, complete with Fender Tele licks, and plenty of vocal twang.
“Well, the next best thing to dyin’ and goin’ to heaven
Is a rolled cigarette and shot of #7…”
—Son Of A Gun
High Time to Hang Fire offers concrete evidence that mourning the loss of a good woman never gets old, and absolutely never goes out of style. Necci stretches his vocals and soars in ways we didn’t see on We Can Be Horses. He’s letting loose, and this fact alone makes it all sonically thirst-quenching.
“I’ll curse what I never said when I had the chance
Now that all the only time we had has slipped through my hands
It’s a high time, to hang fire…”
—High Time to Hang Fire
OUR FAVORITE TRACK…
Homeless opens with a lovely bit of mandolin, a touch of high-hat, and then morphs into yet another emotionally stirring road-tune. In this case, Necci ponders what life looks like when your home town—for whatever reason—dries up, and disappears. I swear to the almighty himself, when I listen to music like this, I can almost be fooled into believing I’d be happier if I were more miserable. Just in case it’s not clear—I mean this in the most endearing of ways.
“Yes, what you do, or where you go
Well it don’t mean much, without no home
But all is calm, all is clear
Ain’t just time gets killed out here…”
It just wouldn’t be a BG album without a touch of death, as Necci scoffs at Lucifer himself in this haunting ballad of mourning. The beautifully arranged dynamics in, Best Get Fitted, are at times as minimal as a muffled kick far off in the distance, and at their peak, a wailing retributive cry to the angel of death.
“I’m afraid I’ll live forever, lord, I ain’t afraid to die…”
—Best Get Fitted
When Lonesome Comes Calling opens with a slow and celestial melody composed of a few electric chords reminding me immediately of the melodic ramblings of some other local favorites in Farewell Milwaukee. With great satisfaction, Necci continues to expand on his vocal range in this tender and minimalist accounting of loss; where every note, every lick, is as treasured and necessary as the subject matter about which he sings.
“Oh, there are bad men, like a bird’s got songs…”
—When Lonesome Comes Calling
A fittingly minimalist conclusion, Can’t Afford to Die, offers nothing more than Necci, a six string, and a few squeaks from an ole’ chair in the studio. When all’s already been said, there’s not much left that needs sayin’.
“Lord, tell me how I won’t go to hell
I’ll dig that grave all by myself…”
—Can’t Afford to Die
Fiddles, guitars & two-steps; mandolins, banjos & ballads; this is an album from another time; from days long passed when the music was subsequent to the substance.
All in all, though the subject matter hasn’t changed much since We Can Be Horses, the energy indeed has. It’s subtle, but it’s there, nonetheless. Here it is: despite the usual whiskey-soaked darkness, Necci seems “happier” (if such a word has any real meaning here). Or, perhaps he’s simply less tormented by the past. Perhaps he’s more comfortable with who he currently is—more comfortable with where he’s going. More hopeful, less anxious. More walking in calm, less climbing the walls. Or, maybe I’m just a sap who’s projecting it all on my own. Either way, there’s just a touch more magic in Buffalo Gospel’s latest album, On The First Bell—just a touch more light. (Be sure to check out our full interview with Necci below.)
The band has, once again, created a collective of sound that is simultaneously never overstated, nor too subtle; and never in competition with Ryan’s gruff prose. The message and music carry one another so well, that, before you know it, the 10-track collection of brilliance is over, leaving you with two options: rejoin the world, or hit play one more time. It wasn’t much of choice for me.
Finally, as a fellow singer/songwriter with a few hundred gigs under my own belt, I know of no higher compliment to pay a piece of music than to acknowledge that it has inspired me to stow away—alone—and write some of my own. What more could one man ask of another man’s art?
Hank Williams Sr. meets Farewell Milwaukee…
BELOW: Check out our full artist interview with Ryan Necci of Buffalo Gospel, listen to Buffalo Gospel’s album, On the First Bell, watch their music video, connect with their website and social media platforms, check out their live show/tour schedule, and find their booking & contact information. Please support Buffalo Gospel by visiting them online, and playing, downloading, and/or purchasing their music, or attending a live show! And, as always, thank you for supporting real music!
CHECK OUT OUR FULL INTERVIEW WITH Ryan Necci OF Buffalo Gospel:
LISTEN TO Buffalo Gospel’s ALBUM On the First Bell:
CHECK OUT Buffalo Gospel’s VIDEO FOR THE SONG 18 Wheeler:
FOLLOW, STREAM, DOWNLOAD & CONNECT WITH Buffalo Gospel ONLINE:
CHECK OUT Buffalo Gospel’s LIVE SHOW/TOUR SCHEDULE:
BOOKING & CONTACT INFORMATION FOR Buffalo Gospel:
- Parker Forsell—Ocooch Mountain Music
- parker (at) ocoochmountainmusic.com