Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday

Donna the Buffalo

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Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday Review

by Steve Leggett

It's tempting to call Donna the Buffalo an old-time string band -- that old-time ensemble sensibility is certainly at the heart of the group, and they play constantly at all those summer festivals -- but it's a label that won't really stretch far enough to cover what this long-running band actually does. They mix Cajun, zydeco, and reggae rhythms into a kind of modern pop-folk-roots-Americana that draws its strength from seeming to sound like it's from everywhere at once, yet still sounding like it comes straight from some Appalachian summer hoedown, even if the group is from Ithaca, New York and electric guitar riffs mingle in with the fiddle, accordion, and washboard reels. This set, the group's tenth album, and their first in five years, highlights everything this consistent band does, and it has a warm, live-sounding production sound (the album was co-produced by the band and Robert Hunter) that stems from live analog recording sessions in a rustic church in Enfield, New York. The end result is one of Donna the Buffalo's best outings, with several solid tracks, including the opener, "All Aboard," a Cajun shuffle that expands in the middle to include a spoken word sermon that ends as a call to personal and political awareness; the fun "I Love My Tribe," which is a bouncy little tribute to the band's many committed fans (dubbed "the Herd"); the funky "Love Time," driven by a mad circus reggae rhythm; and the set's closer, "Spinning World," a swampy and joyous-sounding piece of garage zydeco that places responsibility for the state of this world clearly at everyone's feet. This is what 21st century Americana sounds like, a little bit of this and that from anywhere wrapped up into a poignant, jamming dance reel, a place where the past and history meet easily in the immediate now and everybody feels like dancing.

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