Here comes the funky jamboree
VAIL – You could call Donna the Buffalo a “crossover” jam band. The upstate-New York sextet, who perform at the Sandbar in West Vail Tuesday and Wednesday, has won over devotees of groups like Phish and String Cheese Incident, and the unrestrained, guitar-driven escapades and nebulous, choose-your-own-meaning lyrics in which those bands specialize.
But Donna the Buffalo – fronted by singer-songwriters Tara Nevins and Jeb Puryear, who could glide seamlessly between reggae sunsplash, the New Orleans Jazz Festival and the Grand Ole Opry – also has attracted those who go for more anchored, three-verse-and-chorus pop songs about relationships gone sour and sleazy politicians. No matter that the prominent instrument in any given song may be Puryear’s guitar – played in an easy style that manages to invoke Pink Floyd, West African boogie and the Allman Brothers, all at the same time – or Nevins’ bayou-blazing accordion or down-homey violin. During the bands ultra-high-energy performances, Puryear and Nevins will take turns leading the band (while Nevins channels between an array of instruments) with an occasional country-blues romp sung by the scrappy guitarist Jim Miller. Puryear’s deep nasal singing style is rooted somewhere between Peter Tosh and Joe Strummer of the Clash, and his rollicking songs are occasionally political. For instance, in “America” he sings about the explosion of the shuttle Challenger, America’s cosmic arrogance and Uncle Sam’s overbearing sense of eternal entitlement: “Here in America it’s a propaganda race/ We’re gonna put a teacher into space/ Now we’ve gone and spread her far and wide/ She’s a great symbol of the national pride.”Many of Puryear’s songs also are devotional, but the faith is in a higher power comprised of life, music and families – the immediate and wider, like bands, band and the audiences and the whole human race.Nevin’s bopping country-rock also comes with a heavy dose of spirituality-tinged-with ennui that’s more Neil Young than Bob Marley. Her song “Sailing” is about a person’s paradoxical state of being both anchored and adrift in a world that can be rewarding and harsh:
“Outside in the middle of a fieldI can hold a finger high in the airUnder the sky in the middle of it allI can feel the wind blow the same for us allIn the middle there’s a lot to knowIn the middle there’s a lot to seeOf a world that can be so cold
Of a world with a heart of gold.” In “Tides of Time” she sings about how a little spiritual exploration can help us make the best of it when we also have the depressing knowledge that time is moving on and on: “Seems like human nature/ Seems like the day to day/Seemed like a big hay ride/ Started us out to find our way.”But what might be most apparent at a Donna the Buffalo show is the dancing. The groups’ funkified jamboree will not let anyone in the room sit still. Vail, Colorado