Buxter Hoot’n: In Another Life

The anticipation and excitement of getting the new album of a beloved band is delightful, and the best CDs cause me to listen obsessively. Over, and over, and over, glorious new songs ring in my ears… Yes, music is my vice. If a CD excites me enough I will play it all day long for days on end, much to the dismay of any poor souls who have to endure my compulsive listening. It’s not that they don’t appreciate the music, it’s just that after the thirteenth time I think they wish I would turn the album off (I usually don’t, I just take my obsession elsewhere). My latest binge has been with In Another Life, the latest release from the San Francisco, CA based band Buxter Hoot’n. The band’s sophomore album has an undeniably grassroots sound, one that’s refreshingly unpretentious. Every song on the album is solid, heavy with stellar musicianship and delivering a potent message.

Buxter Hoot’n consists of Vince Dewald on vocals, guitar, banjo, piano, and harmonica; Jimmy Dewald on electric bass, upright bass, and vocals; Ben Andrews on violin, mandolin, electric guitar, and vocals; Jeremy Shanok on drums, percussion, and vocals; and Melissa Merrill on vocals.The album opens with “Tryin to Get Understood,” the intro of which sounds like an old folk song. Barely perceptible is a wailing few notes on violin before banjo begins to play. After a short intro Vince begins to sing lead, Melissa singing back-up. Melissa wasn’t on the last album, being a somewhat new addition to the band, and her vocals are exquisite. Her voice blends vaporously with Vince’s, and when the two sing together their vocals create a dulcet union. Mid-song electric bass starts to growl in the background, bass and banjo playing very different styles, creating a harmonious choir of old and new. Gradually other instruments are introduced and make their presence known, a symphony of banjo, violin, electric guitar, bass, and vocals. The climax of “Tryin to Get Understood” contains moments of dissonance which serve the song well, catapulting it into a state of surrealism momentarily. It is only during the climax that banjo temporarily ceases, for it has an obsessive presence throughout the rest of the song and drives itself into the listener’s head with a repeating pattern. Eventually only banjo is left as the song draws to a close, playing in isolation as it does in the opening. It is not banjo that ends the song, however, but shakily vibrating notes sounded by violin.

The next song, “Nothing To Carry,” starts out like a country song and continues in that vein. It sounds something like a blend of The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, and a little bit of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Vince and Melissa sing about rollin down the road, feeling the wind blow, and not needing anything, in the last line of the song reciting “My road is done, my load is gone.” The song has a great melody and boasts some incredible guitar playing. “Motion” is next, which has an interesting sound and a cool groove. The song sounds like it draws inspiration from the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and one could easily get lost in the many individual parts of the whole. Together, though, the parts are synergistically impressive to listen to. The song has interesting textures, and layers of sound create a rich tapestry of music.

“In Another Life,” the title track, is quite possibly my favorite on the album both musically and lyrically. Vince wrote the song and sings solo in it. Here’s a sampling of the lyrics:

When the ocean tides were born the dust flew up off the palace floor
that blew familiar voices through your door
Now the sun and the moon are right to see it plainly in the night
you’re here with me in another life
And fate was your captain that blew the winds right
across the expansive directionless night
with your feet on the deck, your hands through the sky
born once again in another life

As for the music, mandolin is absolutely beautiful, guitar floats as though on shadowy clouds, and bass highlights each change in the chords and music. The music is the most simple of all the songs on the album, perfect for the gentle beauty of the short, sweet song. After “In Another Life” comes a drastically different song called “Martial Law.” It’s a slow honky-tonk sort of number, fiddle being prominently featured on this one along with an amazing medley of electric guitar. As much as I like the Crazy Heart soundtrack (although not so much the movie itself, which I was largely disappointed in), T-Bone Burnett, Stephen Bruton, and Ryan Bingham have got nothing on Buxter Hoot’n, who can do rustic Country/Americana music like apparently only a young bunch of California dwellers can.

She Don’t Care” enters next as though out of a dream, and in a dreamlike state is where the song remains. The music is subdued, but tensely so, and is never quite fully there. The song has a gypsy flair, channeling Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli while giving the gypsy spirit a fresh twist and feel. There are pauses in the song which are dramatic, the music between the pauses accentuated by drums. At one point it sounds like the song might end, but it doesn’t. Instead, guitar gets a marvelous solo, the playing as clear and precise as that of any gypsy master I’ve ever heard. After that violin takes the lead with a solo, soaring in spirals, dashing downward, full of passion and fury. Finally everything quiets down a bit, drums crashing in the background, guitar and violin still playing quietly. With one last crash of the cymbals the song is over. I have loved Buxter Hoot’n for a while now, but I continue to be amazed by the the band musically. The musicianship in She Don’t Care,” for example, puts me in a state of awe (but it’s certainly not the only song to do so)

Melissa wrote “In A Veil,” next on the album. She sings lead on the song as well, which is a dark, restless two-step. It opens jazzily with violin and smoky cymbals, joined by guitar and bass. After an ever so brief moment of silence the guitar starts to play with a steady driving force, and the song is constantly moving forward. Melissa’s vocals are a little bit country, a little bit jazz, a little bit folk rock, and a whole lot of soul. She slides into notes with ease and her voice is a joy to listen to. Vince sings back-up to Melissa on “In A Veil,” and their voices have similarities in that they’re both full of character. They inflate what they sing with the fire of human life, causing the songs to leap from the speakers. Both Vince and Melissa’s singing is compelling, as is the music of Buxter Hoot’n. Each member of the band likewise inflates their instrument and playing with that same fire, and the songs on In Another Life continue to be as exciting after the thirteenth listen as they were after the first.

After “In A Veil” comes “Cpt. Long Gone.” My impression of the song is that it’s a lackadaisical drinking song – not necessarily the band’s intention, but my impression all the same. It’s a fun, laid back song, one that’s a little strange and twisted but in a really good way. Buxter Hoot’n is a jam band of sorts, and they really showcase that side of their music in “Cpt. Long Gone.” In a nutshell, the song is like sunshine, puddles, daisies, and clouds, all wrapped up together and enveloped in a psychedelic haze. Sound slightly surreal? As Vince sings in the song, “Nothing is real.” Next is “Excused,” another song featuring Melissa’s vocals and songwriting. It’s a moderate tempo, earnest country waltz. The song is absolutely lovely and it gave me goosebumps. When I listen it’s fun to imagine that I’m at a dark country bar, the band on-stage, a big wooden floor filled with dancers, perhaps some people playing pool in the background, everyone appreciating the music and each other. I love the fact that Buxter Hoot’n’s music has the ability to transport the listener, as it does for me. After that comes the second to last song, “Hillbilly Heroin.” It slinks through time, a shifty six and a half minutes of song which contains some exceptional instrumental solos. The song is slightly crazed, off-kilter, and reminiscent of cabaret music. Vince and Melissa wail about messing with hillbilly heroin, while the music creates waves of sound in the background.

“Hand Over My Heart” is last. Just as Buxter Hoot’n’s last album did, In Another Life makes me feel nostalgic for a lost America and no song does so more than “Hand Over My Heart.” That has nothing to do with the title, or the lyrics of “Put your hand over my heart/for the world is almost gone.” Maybe it’s the medley of vocals, the harmonica, the glory filled melody, powerful guitar singing along with the voices, the beautiful violin… I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but most likely it’s a combination of all those things. That, and the magic that Buxter Hoot’n infuses their music with.

As far as I’m concerned, Buxter Hoot’n is leading the way for 21st century folk rock music, yet the band’s sound is eclectic. The musicians’ abilities are astounding, their sound incredibly diverse. Most of all I love the poetic quality of the band’s songwriting, for it stirs something deep within. Vince wrote all of the songs on In Another Life except for “Cpt. Long Gone” and “Hillbilly Heroin” (which were co-written with Jimmy) and the two that Melissa wrote, as mentioned. All too often bands are lacking either musically or lyrically, but this crew is supreme in both aspects. Buxter Hoot’n is single-handedly redefining contemporary Americana music and is the voice of their generation.

You can buy In Another Life here.

Here’s a video of the band playing Martial Law

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