Buxter Hoot’n’s new self-titled album

Buxter Hoot’n.

The name sounds like it could belong to a rogue from the 1800s, but it actually refers to a current band — and the band’s new self-titled album, out on May 30th. Based out of San Francisco, Buxter Hoot’n is a group of young musicians and songwriters who explore the potential and realities of human life and interaction in their new album. The way the characters in the songs are portrayed gives the listener a sense of understanding, even as the characters attempt to understand themselves and their motivations. There is grief, regret, and unfulfilled desires present in songs, but also joy, love, and nostalgia. While I could get lost in explaining the monumental lyricism of the band’s new album, however, the music is also breathtaking. No band blends roots, rock, blues and folk quite like Buxter Hoot’n — and those are just the obvious influences found in the band’s music, the implicit influences being even wider. The musicians possess both great technical skill and great passion, and the band has a very distinct sound with an unwavering emotional aspect to it. Furthermore, Buxter Hoot’n’s music stimulates us as listeners to reflect not just on how we view things but also why we view them that way. Great music inspires us to think and feel, and Buxter Hoot’n’s new album does just that.

The opening track, “Mariel,” begins gently and unfolds slowly. Guitar carries the melody, which is haunting — as are the lyrics — and orchestral-sounding violin lends itself well to the melancholy of the song. After that is “Out the Door,” which Vince sings lead on with Melissa singing backing vocals. The phrasing is unique and there is emphasis in unexpected places, certain words being accented while others are delayed. The music is a warm medley of guitar, harmonica, and drums, with moments of blazing guitar work. The third track is “Blue Night,” a song about the complications of a relationship but also the simplicity of letting it all go and riding together “on this blue night.”

A waltz about prisons, decisions, and social structure, “Chief Justice Shepard” is a critique of a real life character: Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard. It’s a powerful song with an even more powerful message. While the song ends with Vince reciting, “[Chief Justice Shepard] Got 2 tickets for the revolution, got 2 tickets for the show/Got 2 tickets for the execution everyone’s paying to go/It’s no wonder that you say there’s nothing worth believing in anymore,” the song is nonetheless empowering rather than depressing. The band is voicing it’s opinions about injustices, and Buxter Hoot’n gives us something to believe in. Listening to these talented, hard-working, and intelligent musicians I believe that change may indeed come — if only one song at a time.

The most simplistic song on the album in regards to the music, “Thought I Heard You Say” features the richest vocals. Violin carries the melody while guitar provides accompaniment, and the only other instrument is the occasional wail of harmonica in the background. Melissa sings lead on this one,  hearty country and blues characteristics prominent in her voice. After that comes “Go Get Your Gun,” which was actually on the band’s debut album, “Here In America.” The version on the new album is quite different musically, however. The captivating tango-inspired melody on violin is just as I remember it, but there is limited use of drums in the new rendition whereas in the original the drums were much more pronounced. Instead, this time around, flamenco-style guitar provides the rhythm. At the 2:18 mark the music ceases momentarily and then proceeds to trickle on for another minute — in the midst of which is stunning flamenco guitar work accentuated by tambourine and violin — before the spirited music that song began with begins again. Actually, the music becomes even wilder as violin soars and dashes in spirals above drums (which are nonexistent in the first half of the song) and guitar. The ending slows once more though, and the last note lingers before fading into nothing.

Cover bands, if they’re good, actually happen to be a somewhat secret pleasure of mine — not that I feel guilty for liking them, I just don’t go around broadcasting it — and Buxter Hoot’n’s “Cover Band” explains everything I love about them, although in a more interesting way than I could surely put it. After that is “Spill Some Juice On Me,” which was written and is sung by Jimmy Dewald. Half sung and half spoken, it’s an intimate sharing of thoughts and Jimmy humorously asks, “talk is cheap and life is long, or is that the other way around.”The song is conversational and has a dreamy, relaxed quality, but there is a lot of interesting commentary in the song. Like “Chief Justice Shepard” it is a critique of issues, including a “preacher selling salvation to a bunch of idiots.” That leads to the second-to-last track, called “In The Morning.” The song starts off mellow with just piano and vocals before drums and guitars (electric and acoustic) join in. Vince has a distinctly sweet yet scratchy, worn, and wise voice, and it’s especially well-suited for the weary quality the narrative possesses. Packed with raw truths and wistful realities, the song is about awakening — both literally and figuratively. Even the more somber songs (as this one is) have a liveliness to them, however, and “In The Morning” is emotionally rousing. The last song is the only instrumental on the album and was written by Ben Andrews. A short but beautiful tune featuring nothing more than violin, “Curtain” sounds like a snippet of the Adagio movement of a string quartet  and serves as a literal closing of curtains on a truly dramatic and impressive album.

I am blown away by this prodigious effort by the band. Even the fictional characters in the songs bear vitality, the capacity to live and grow; they become alive through the spark the band and its songwriting inflates them with. Seeing past other people’s perceptions of situations, Buxter Hoot’n’s new album explores how poetry is not unlike the documentation of moments. These folks have a unique ability to find poetry in moments that are not particularly poetic, at least not in the traditional sense, and there is a quiet awe for these experiences found in the songs. There is no grand sweeping drama in any of the narratives, however. Rather, the drama is in the seemingly mundane and it is the everyday occurrences that have significance. The band chronicles daily life with a distinct voice and, more than simply stories and music, Buxter Hoot’n’s songs are pieces of life.

Buxter Hoot’n is:

Vince Dewald on vocals and guitar
Ben Andrews on guitar and violin
Jimmy Dewald on bass and vocals
Jeremy Shanok on drums and vocals
Melissa Merrill on vocals and tambourine

Photo by Angela Manginelli  

Check out the band’s music video for “Blue Night” below:

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