Mad Buffalo Shows Its Primary Colors on New CD, “Red and Blue,” Coming February 21

By Dan Harr

Mad Buffalo - Red and BlueJanuary 5, 2012 – Out of the “Big Sky Country” comes the new release from Mad Buffalo, Red and Blue, which will be released February 21 and distributed nationally by Burnside Distribution. Red and Blue follows the band’s critically-acclaimed 2008 CD, Wilderness, which No Depression called “beautifully fleshed out, with stellar performances;” while Gritz said of the album: “This is a CD that begs to be heard over and over again … In a five star rating system, this one gets six stars. Six stars beside a full harvest moon hanging over a bison filled prairie. Good stuff.” And Honest Tune summed up its review by stating, “Wilderness is an outright jewel that gets better with every listen … one of the best roots-oriented releases of 2008.”

Backing singer/ songwriter/guitarist Randy Riviere on the new album is a stellar cast of Nashville musicians, including legendary guitarist Reggie Young, as well as Jack Holder (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Kevin McKendree (keyboards and vocals), James Pennebaker (guitar, violin, mandolin, banjo), Shane Dwight (vocals), Dave Roe and Craig Young (bass) and Chad Cromwell (drums). The album was produced by Chad Cromwell and Randy Riviere and recorded at Cromwell’s Lamplight Studio in Primm Springs, Tennessee.

Just like its predecessor, Red and Blue paints sweeping and incisive song portraits of characters and stories that are universal in their scope and appeal. As on Wilderness, the music on Red and Blue was informed by the many years Randy Riviere spent as a wildlife biologist working to protect our rapidly diminishing landscape values. Riviere’s musical influences range from The Beatles and Lynyrd Skynyrd to The Band and Neil Young.

Unlike Wilderness, however, in several songs Red and Blue takes an outsider’s view of the political polarization of our country in the last several years. “The title track of Red and Blue is really about the deteriorating political discourse in our country,” says Randy Riviere. “It used to be that we could have political conversations with folks with different viewpoints and go have a beer with them afterwards and continue to be best friends. Now it’s kind of ‘my way or the highway’ and only ‘true believers’ are allowed. And it’s gotten really nasty. One side has its own news shows, the other side has its own news shows – there’s just this big dichotomy now. And I think much of this is a product of contrived efforts, mostly by big-money America, to keep us divided and voting in specific ways.

“But if you go out in the country, among the folks, away from all the political babble that runs non-stop over the airwaves, it doesn’t take long to realize that we’re all pretty much the same. We all are doing the best we can to live the best we can. This is true whether we live in a red state or a blue state. This is true no matter what church we go to or if we don’t go at all. This is true regardless of how much money we have or which side of town we live in – whether we wear cowboy boots, hiking boots, muck boots, steel-toed boots or sandals. Whether we’re covered with cow shit or have never set foot on a farm. This album is about us, not the politicians and their big money enablers.”

Other songs on Red and Blue are influenced by Thoreau’s ideas about the freedom of living simply, which resonated with Riviere and his family, who have vowed to do all they can to live as self sufficiently as possible. On the Riviere farm, you’ll find cows, pigs, chickens, a sizable garden and some horses. Echoing that sentiment, “Be Here Tomorrow’ is “about a young family’s connection to the ground and things that are really important,” says Riviere. “Another new song, ‘Emily,’ is about the subsequent generation that keeps evolving and always seems to be quite different than its predecessor. In one sense you could think that because the younger generation is standing on our shoulders they should be able to see farther; in another there’s this realization that they wouldn’t set foot on our shoulders if their life depended upon it. And there’s all the political manipulation that’s thrown in their faces.”

And it wouldn’t be a Mad Buffalo album if Riviere didn’t vent some of his concerns regarding the fate of our environment and our unwavering economic priorities in this country. “I’ve been concerned about this stuff forever and feel like the chickens have definitely come home to roost in this economy,” says Riviere. “Wall Street shenanigans, banker bonuses, de-regulation, the ridiculous GOP/Corporate America ‘trickle down’ mantra – which has always seemed to me like someone pissing down my back and trying to tell me it’s raining. Those thoughts coalesce on the songs ‘Walk This Life Alone’ and ‘Set the World on Fire.’”

A big reader of American history, Riviere chose old Tennessee Mountain Man Joe Walker as the subject matter in ‘Big Joe Walker.’ “I just love writing these kinds of songs,” he admits. “I think Walker’s life represented so many things I dreamed about as a kid … being free to roam the stunning American West, before we got here and screwed it up.”

Wilderness – Chris Spector, Midwest Record

“A long time player that has finally made music his priority rounds up cats like Marty Grebb, Mickey Raphael and James Burton to give his latest the proper kick in the pants. C’mon, these guys really don’t need to get out of bed for a paycheck. As blue collar as it gets, this is the real music of the heartland and its people. As real as it gets from top to bottom, this is the kind of left field date that grows on you instantly and really opens your ears to a new raft of possibilities.”
- Chris Spector, Midwest Record – Chicago, IL – Sept. 10, 2008

Wilderness – John James, LEO Weekly

“Blue-collar honest and steel-guitar stirring, this passionate group is helmed by Randy Riviere with guest guitarist and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer James Burton, singing the praises of ‘Ohio’ and ‘Old Kentucky.’”
- John James, LEO Weekly, Louisville, KY – Sept. 10, 2008

Wilderness – Brian Holland, Modern Guitars

“Wilderness is the third release from Randy Riviere, also known as Mad Buffalo. Randy creates music that reflects his meaningful, spirited efforts as a wildlife biologist who has acquired multiple awards for work in conservation and environmental issues. The album’s lyrical content involves thought provoking and inspiring accounts of the American wilderness and of the commonplace folk who thrive in it, both past and present. Like Neil Young, Gram Parsons, and Steve Earle before him, Riviere is an old school composer and musician suitable to the folk-rock groove of performers who sing of practical and earthy American ideals. It’s roots music to remind us of who we are and where we come from.

“Riviere has garnered respect and notoriety throughout the music industry. It’s an aspect that’s blatantly noticeable in the list of performers playing alongside him on Wilderness. Hall of Fame guitarist James Burton, harmonica player Mickey Raphael (the Willie Nelson Band), Producer Marty Grebb on multiple instruments, and James Pennebaker on steel guitar are a mere few musicians who added their talents to the album’s twelve tracks.

“Though Riviere’s voice has a sound of its own, one that’s somewhat relaxed in a baritone register, it’s interesting that a Neil Young ambiance is perceived quite often, even though his range is opposite of Young’s falsetto/tenor. The exception to this ‘closeness in sound yet difference in range’ feature is the song “All I Really Want,” in which his range actually sounds in close proximity to Young’s at times. The Neil Young similarity is perceivable throughout the album, but it’s merely a bonus, and by no means challenges the individualism of Riviere. Though his style often reflects timeless influences of past folk and rock greats, he’s an extremely distinctive and genuine artist in his own right.”
~ Brian D. Holland, www.modernguitars.com – October 27, 2008

Wilderness – Bentley’s Bandstand

“You know a record’s got something going for it when it has two cuts with James Burton on guitar, and it doesn’t even need him to be compelling. Wilderness springs from the environmentally conscious, musically rich interior landscape that defines the singular voice and viewpoint of Randy Riviere (pronounced Ri-veer), whose interesting wanderings have found him occupying a variety of blue collar jobs, serving a stint in the U.S. Army, undertaking an education that’s earned him a master’s degree in wildlife biology, toiling in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, leading an effort to preserve more than 40,000 acres as permanent wildlife conservation easements and earning awards for his environmental efforts. This in part helps explain why the intriguing songs on the aptly titled Wilderness bear such a strong sense of place, a connection to the physical geography of the land and the psychological contours of a restless soul in pursuit of some degree of grace and definition.

“In the nasally rumble of his voice on the first few tracks here Riviere sounds like he might be blood kin to Tony Gilkyson, and his songs have the same restless thrust as Gilkyson’s best work; but as the disc unfolds, Riviere’s timbre softens and lightens into an airy, eerie near-falsetto replicant of the young Neil Young’s voice. Some may find this unnerving, or derivative, but settle in and it all makes sense, sounds right, and wholly Riviere’s. The song titles underscore the importance of location in Riviere’s work-’Ohio,’ ‘Old Kentucky,’ ‘Alkali/Cold Harbor,’ ‘This World,’ ‘Angry Town,’ ‘Three Rivers,’ ‘Rainy Day,’ even ‘Destination Unknown’ and its implied journey. The music informing these numbers is itself a kind of map-the energetic rockabilly shadings and propulsive, insistent rhythm of ‘Destination Unknown’ (and Burton’s chiming, exuberant guitar solo) as the narrator wends his way from the Carolinas to Missouri to Wyoming and beyond; the sparkling, Allmans/Marshall Tucker-like cascading twin guitar lines erupting in ‘Ohio,’ a tense, grinding summons to explore some unsavory history buried by time and blood; the languid, old-timey fiddle-accordion-banjo-mandolin ensemble of ‘Old Kentucky,’ which turns out to be one man’s apology offered to the land he plundered for his own riches at the moment he realizes the land, not he, will prevail–’there’s cards on the table/and a shell of a man/but these hills of Kentucky stand’; in ‘Alkali/Cold Harbor,’ the mournful pedal steel, stark, deliberately plucked banjo and ominous wash of organ chords filling up the track as Riviere, singing in an odd, detached voice, as if he’s looking back on horrors from a psychological dead zone, recalls the desperate straits in which he found himself, apparently during the Civil War, when his only aim was ‘to stay alive’ and get back to the solitude of his Tennessee mountain home. You get the idea. Wilderness ranges across time and space with impunity, seemingly coming out of antiquity at one moment, at another firmly rooted in modern times, and occasionally daring to occupy a phantom zone of past and present in the same breath.

“By the end of this record you won’t be thinking about Riviere sounding like Neil Young; you’ll be wondering what hit you. The music being not only well played but emotionally charged adds grandeur to Riviere’s vivid tales–here’s a big tip of the hat to Riviere, his brother Bobby and Michael Ward for the electrifying guitar work, to James Pennebaker for making the lap and pedal steels sing so affectingly, and especially to the master of the harmonica, Mickey Raphael, who is nothing short of amazing, adding the most scintillating atmospherics to the tracks, whether in the shimmering cries of the winsome ‘All I Really Want’ or in the banshee blues wails punctuating the acerbic, angry thump of ‘Pretty Boy,’ which may be a thinly veiled indictment of the Bush administration, a notion that gains credence when the song suddenly breaks into an energetic trot in the last verse as Riviere sings, ‘Hello little girls and little boys/Did you see the news or hear the noise?/Daddy’s not coming home the same old way/Didn’t you see the news today?’–after which interlude the music explodes into a white-hot fusillade of searing guitar, wailing harmonica and thundering drums fueling Riviere’s howls of ‘Don’t tell me it’s alright/don’t tell me it’s alright.’ It’s not, and we won’t, but we will mark that you moved through here and made sure we took notice. The good earth will remember, too.”
- Bentley’s Bandstand, www.sonicboomers.com – September 22, 2008

Wilderness – David McGee, The Bluegrass Special

This Land Remembers
“You know a record’s got something going for it when it has two cuts with James Burton on guitar, and it doesn’t even need him to be compelling. Wilderness springs from the environmentally conscious, musically rich interior landscape that defines the singular voice and viewpoint of Randy Riviere (pronounced Ri-veer), whose interesting wanderings have found him occupying a variety of blue collar jobs, serving a stint in the U.S. Army, undertaking an education that’s earned him a master’s degree in wildlife biology, toiling in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, leading an effort to preserve more than 40,000 acres as permanent wildlife conservation easements and earning awards for his environmental efforts. This in part helps explain why the intriguing songs on the aptly titled Wilderness bear such a strong sense of place, a connection to the physical geography of the land and the psychological contours of a restless soul in pursuit of some degree of grace and definition.”
- David McGee, TheBluegrassSpecial.com – Sept. 10, 2008