On his latest album Jake Smith, aka The White Buffalo, continues with tales of love, loss, redemption, and the darker side of life. What’s different about ‘Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights’ is that it is perhaps the most electrified that Smith has sounded so far. The acoustic driven storytelling is still evident throughout the album, but on moments like ‘Hide and Seek’, ‘Avalon’, and the full pelt ‘Nightstalker Blues’, Smith showcases another side to his sound. The sound that The White Buffalo makes during a live gig. No point in trying to pin Smith to one particular genre or sound, just sit back and allow his warm baritone voice to wash over you wave after wave.
Beginning with Smith counting the band in on the easy, shuffling feel of ‘Hide and Seek’, the album seems like it was recorded right there, right then, computer malarky kept to a minimum. It would be interesting to know how many takes it took before ‘Hide and Seek’ was cut, but I’m willing to bet it was only a few. The simple, swinging drum sound from Matt Lynott is crucial to the feel of the opener, and harks back to the stellar work that Charlie Watts produces for The Stones. Blam! Straight into ‘Avalon’ with it’s Springsteen-like driving narrative. It’s easy to see why this is the one Smith picked for his ITV appearance last month. Unlike the TV version, this is full band, and will no doubt be a stand out played live next April, when The White Buffalo returns to these shores. Smith can be included in the pool of American singer/songwriters that delve into the darker aspects of American life. Like Johnny Cash and Springsteen, his tales of the seedier side of life are stark and cinematic, ‘Robbery’ being a prime example… “I’m heading in through the front door, Bobby’s in the back a looking out, ski masks and .44, another score another silent town”. ‘Border Town/Bury Me In Baja’ is another. The tale of a drug dealer awaiting his fate at the hands of the Mexican mafia is set to a thumping, rhythmic beat that could be described as quite sprightly and jaunty. Toe-tapping to the tale of a guy about to get his nuts cut off? Why not?
As the album title suggests, there are some lighter moments. Both ‘The Observatory’, and ‘If I Lost My Eyes’ are tender love stories, without ever veering off into schmaltzy territory. Smith’s deep baritone voice is tailor made for the softer moments, and his warm, approachable persona merely enhances this. ‘The Heart and Soul of the Night’ is a fun tale of living for the weekend, and, intentional or not, there is a slight Thin Lizzy vibe going down. Maybe drummer Matt Lynott was researching his family tree and up popped Uncle Phil?! Regardless of bloodlines, it’s another high tempo belter that sounds like it was recorded live. ‘Nightstalker Blues’ is the fastest moment on the album, The White Buffalo telling a tale of growing up in 1985 during the Richard Ramirez/Night Stalker murders. Now, this one played live? Carnage awaits! Pints will be hoisted aloft before arcing upwards through the stark lighting. I’ve seen quite a few boisterous moments at gigs by The White Buffalo, and this one will no doubt set off another. It’s kind of weird to explain, it’s like a mosh-pit… but not. A strange mixture of pogo-ing and not wanting to push the guy in front too hard in case he is a nonce and belts you one. Yeah, having that.
‘Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights’ is a startling album of contrasts. A natural progression from previous albums, and one that is deserving of a much larger audience than the man known as The White Buffalo (or “Big Jake” to some of his fans) currently enjoys. A solid work ethic and killer tunes have got him to this stage, perhaps luck is all that’s required to get him to the next, bigger stage.
Available now on Earache Records. More information, and all tour dates can be found here.
Review: Dave Stott