It gets old considering music and classifying it within the created boundaries of genre. Certain sounds and flavors that make music can’t help but call to mind those among the long history of music which precedes that of the modern era, however. For New York band Donna the Buffalo, it is within the realm of country that the group’s tenth studio album, Silverlined, seems to be most deeply rooted. Yet the thirteen track record is not so easy to classify solely within those parameters.
While country music may be at the heart of the five piece band, the music is infused with various instruments and timbres and a small few vocal qualities that reflect the group dabbling into genres across the board. “Blue Eyes” puts forth the slightest tinge of reggae; “The Call” makes use of an accordion as the prominent instrument, holding down the song with a mellow 90's alternative rock feel; and the title track “Silverlined” gives listeners a very classic, solid country number which projects just that sound which comes to represent Donna the Buffalo at their most bare.
Driving the list of genres out still more, Donna the Buffalo experiments with a more jam band, funk vibe in both “Temporary Misery” and “I Don’t Need a Riddle,” while “Locket and Key” and “Beauty Within” hold a tint of folk with subtle use of the banjo which, while in a less pronounced role, creates great structure to the sound and lends the tracks to the realm of folk.
For as much ground as is covered however, the structure and organization of the album lends to a repetition and predictability in the vocal characterization and thus the overall sound of the record outside of its country basis. Aside from two tracks right in the middle of the album, the songs rotate back and forth between those with vocals sung by Tara Nevins and those with vocals by Jeb Puryear. Certainly there is a small handful of songs that feature both vocalists, but the greater portion of the record moves from female vocals on one track with male vocals on the next, going back and forth again from Nevins to Puryear as the album carries on in its entirety.
It is within this pattern of vocalization between female and male in the structure of the album that a repetition in vocal performance emerges. Radio friendly, catchy pop vocals characterize the six or so songs that Nevins takes lead vocals on, ultimately giving them a country pop sound that, with songs such as “Locket and Key,” make Donna the Buffalo just slightly akin to the likes of Taylor Swift. So too do the lyrics of those songs sung by Nevin pit the band within this genre. “Broken Record” functions as an example for the rest as a song about relationships, communication, and desire sung with a bit of underlying female attitude with the support of backing female vocals.
Standing opposite is Puryear, whose half talking, half singing vocal style not only calls to mind Bob Dylan, Craig Elkins, and oddly, Bob Seger (specifically in “Meant to Be”), but so too makes for songs that are often more simple, continuous, flat, and even in both the vocals and in the collective aspects of the instrumentation and music itself.
Predictability in the vocal progression from one song to the next within the greater patterned structure and organization of the album are the major pitfalls of Silverlined. And yet at the same time it is the catchy nature of songs such as “Broken Record” and “Sliverlined” itself, alongside the quirkiness found in the likes of “Biggie K,” that make Donna the Buffalo a simple country band with a bit of a modern kick and flavor that show a desire to dabble in music across the board.
Most far reaching for the band in this regard is “Garden of Eden,” a song with an odd yet most wonderful combination of percussion and strings next to Puryear’s talk vocals and that country sound found deep at the bottom of all of Silverlined. An Oriental yet somewhat African feel is given off in this composite of stringed instruments with percussion. The worldly sound produced makes this track the most unique to the album and shows that Donna the Buffalo is capable of creating an intriguing, refreshing sound with which further exploration and tinkering would be more than welcome.