Buxter Hoot’n: Here In America

Buxter Hoot’n is a San Francisco, CA based band whose music I happened to recently discover, whereupon I instantly fell madly in love with it. Here In America is the band’s debut album, which they self-produced. It is rare that I listen to a CD where each song really stands out and is strong both in music and lyrics – especially from a band whose members are all still in their twenties – yet such is the case with Buxter Hoot’n’s Here In America. Vince Dewald is lead singer and guitarist of the band, in addition to playing the harmonica and banjo. He’s also the songwriter, and his lyrics are nothing short of extraordinary. The other members are Jim Dewald (Vince’s brother) on upright/electric bass, Ben Andrews on violin and guitar, Jeremy Shanok on drums, and the recent addition of Melissa Merrill on vocals (she isn’t on Here In America, but is on new recordings which will be available soon on Myspace and iTunes). Check out the band’s website or Myspace page.

The album opens with a track called “Footsteps”, which is played at a brisk waltz tempo. Vince’s voice – conjuring wondrous and mystic images with his lyrics – pleads with the listener, while the harmonica wails, and guitar and fiddle can be heard in the background. I love when musicians include lyrics in their CD’s (as Buxter Hoot’n does), so I have to give you a sample of what Vince is reciting in that particular song:

Ain’t no wind that blow gonna hold me back no more
My footsteps keep goin the same way
So where you goin, little one? You gotta learn to heed the sun
For now it’s time to say goodbye, and it’s okay for you to cry
Cause there’s rain on the muddy trail, tomorrow holds no fairy tales
No happy endings, magic kiss, no rainbow that leads with bliss…

The second track, “Horses”, opens with a neat little jazzy riff on guitar, which is then joined by upright bass. Although guitar is the lead instrument in the song, the bass has a prominent presence throughout, helping to create a film noir feel, but with a jazzy, if not somewhat punk influence in the music. There’s also some really great electric guitar which contributes to the sly and fatalistic vibe, and some nice acoustic guitar solos as well. At six minutes and forty one seconds it’s a rather long song, but I love it. The length of the song – as well as the sound of the recording – gives the listener the impression that it was recorded live at a jazz club. The next track is called “Molly Fry.” It’s a good ole’ bluegrass two-step, and country fiddle leads the instruments on that one. Vince busts out a little yodel here and there, channeling a mix somewhere between Elvis Presley, Bob Wills, and Jimmie Rodgers, and the track is perfectly put together in every aspect. Fourth on the album is a song called “Here In America.” An anthem if ever I heard one… It’s a drunken bar ballad kind of song, and the backup vocals add real character to the track. Midway through the electric guitar gets a solo, crying out with it’s musical voice about the unfairness of life. After that the song changes, picking up the tempo and becoming increasingly crazed as the band chants “Here in America, here in America” over and over again. Electric guitar blazes once more before the song starts to fade, and with a few more “Here in America”s, comes to an end. What song would be suitable to follow “Here in America”? Well, Buxter Hoot’n chose one called, ironically enough, “Freedom.” There are some interesting, somewhat ethereal textures in sound, and low notes on the guitar growl. The song title is not only appropriate for the lyrics, but for the bluesy music as well. The music holds the duality of being free during the improvisations while still being restrained by musical bars. A fascinating piece.

The titles of tracks four, five, and six leave one to wonder about whether or not there’s intentional significance to their succession. As you know, tracks four and five are called “Here In America” and “Freedom”, respectively. Well, track six is called, wait for it, “Go Get Your Gun.” “Go Get Your Gun” is actually the first song I heard by Buxter Hoot’n, and is what captured my attention in the first place. It’s a tango with soaring fiddle, Spanish influenced guitar, captivating vocals, and hypnotic drums. It opens with bongos, before the fiddle hesitantly starts to play. At one point the song fades to almost silence, and just as you think it’s over, it starts again with more passion and fury than before. There’s a really cool – if all too short – solo on the bongos close to the end. When the song does eventually end, it leaves an unfinished taste in one’s mouth, as though there’s more to be explained about the story, but it’s a story which is unfinished as of yet. I find that the best songs leave you dwelling on the tales and mystery they hold even after the music’s stopped playing, and “Go Get Your Gun” does just that. Next is “Oh Lord”, a simple, understated, and therefore perfectly stated blues tune, if that makes sense… It’s a clean fresh song which makes it’s statement known without being flashy or unnecessary. I love the opening in particular, when Vince wails along to his guitar noodling. Not to get all psycho-babbly or anything, but the song ends when the song ends, when there’s nothing more to convey. It disappears the same way it came, through the shadows. After that comes “Lucy”, and I have to tell you, both the name of the song and the opening are very misleading. The first few bars are sweetly played by guitar, but after that things get a little crazy… As it turns out, “Lucy” is a rowdy and raucous, hoe-down inspiring, feverishly energetic fireball of a song. Things get increasingly frenzied as the song progresses, until they finally calm down a bit. Don’t worry though, it’s only for a few seconds. The music kicks up it’s heels once more, and comes to a close with the crazed quality that I love about the song.

If folk, reggae, and a high school marching band ever had a musical love child, it would be “Sigh”, the ninth song on Buxter Hoot’n’s album. It’s a really interesting song, both in the music and lyrics. Four lines that I find especially beautiful and inspiring:

Let your soul be free like the wind from it’s tainted cage in your mind
Now your mind doesn’t matter
And your soul will shine
So you will find your soul and you will let it grow

“Protest Song” is the third to last track. It’s somewhat silly and doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, but speaks of truths which are all too serious. Topics included are the economy, brainwashing, and advertising cons, among other things. As much as I love the song “Here In America”, perhaps “Protest Song” should be the real anthem on the album… After that is “Charles Mingus”, and with a name like that, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Even so, I was surprised to find that it is a quiet instrumental with a Spanish flair. Guitar plays solo for a large portion of the song, and Vince’s playing is incredible. So is Ben on the fiddle when he joins in, meanwhile you can hear drums and cymbals crashing in response. Everything overlaps to form one big wave of sound until the conclusion of the song, when the instruments quiet down and disappear back into a curtain of nothingness. The last track is called “Train Song.” It has a lullaby-like quality, and Vince’s voice is distant and haunting, as is the electric guitar. You want to reach out and touch the music, but you can’t. It’s deeply moving in a way that nothing that’s not solid should be able to be, yet it’s not solid, it’s nothing more than a vaporous cloud of imagination. Never underestimate the power of imagination, however… And powerful is something Buxter Hoot’n’s music most certainly is.

The entire album brings to mind a lost and forgotten America. One where everything still retained a freshness and, more importantly, held glory. A lost America if you ask me, and if not yet lost, then being lost. At least we have music like Buxter Hoot’n’s to spark our imagination and dreams, and to ignite our hearts; here in America and beyond.

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