Jim Lauderdale with Donna the Buffalo’s Wait ‘Til Spring

cover art for Wait Til SpringJim Lauderdale is one of the most respected and sought-after songwriters in country music. And what’s most impressive is that he’s equally popular with the Nashville establishment and the alt-country crowd. He’s also a prolific recording artist, waxing numerous solo discs, singing on other artists’ projects, and recording albums with well-known acts from outside the Nashville scene, including the highly respected Ralph Stanley. Stretching the boundaries is one way for an artist to keep his material fresh. But in this case, it hasn’t really worked.

Donna the Buffalo is an upstate New York-based jam band, with country leanings and reggae accents. Their laid-back vibe, reggae beats and ability to stretch out for long guitar-and-fiddle jams make them perennial favorites on the festival circuit, and they also have some following among Americana fans for their gentle, folksy sound.

The team-up of Lauderdale and the Buffalos has some promise, but it goes largely unfulfilled on Wait ‘Til Spring. Lauderdale’s usual lyrical gifts seem to have fled, leaving him with a kind of hippie-dippy mush that’s sadly all too common among jam bands. To be sure, there are a lot of nice touches on nearly every one of this album’s 11 tracks, but overall, everything fuses into a sunny but formless glop after a while.

Donna the Buffalo as a band can swing, and that’s what you notice right off on the title track. It’s mellow, but it swings. “Different Kind of Lightning” is a portrait of a lively, spirited woman, but beyond the swinging beat the musical setting is undistinguished, leaving Lauderdale nothing to hang the song on.

There’s a lot of Cajun and zydeco influence throughout. Tara Nevins’ fiddle stands out on “Some Other Bayou,” an evocative, reggae-fied mid-tempo Cajun song. Lauderdale’s warm country-style baritone plays off well against the fiddle here. The final two tracks, “Holding Back” and “Wowowo” both have a zydeco beat, accented by Nevins’ accordion on “Holding Back,” which sinks under the weight of amorphous love lyrics.

“Slow Motion Trouble” is a slow, bluesy swamp-pop number, with a nice pairing of accordion and distorted electric guitar; the rhythm section of Tom Gilbert on drums and Jed Greenberg on bass really stand out on this one. “That’s Not the Way it Works” has a nice Byrdsian jangle from Jim Miller’s 12-string, but suffers from lyrics like “Keep your spirits pointed towards the heavens, you’ll know better when you get back home.” Similarly, lines like “keep on doing what we can to get us through” weigh down “This World is Getting Mean,” which has some nifty baritone guitar and a swinging chorus of hallelujahs.

Fans of Donna the Buffalo might enjoy this one, but I can’t imagine Lauderdale’s fans will find all that much to like about it.

You can learn more about Jim Lauderdale and Donna the Buffalo at their respective websites.

(Dualtone, 2003)

Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.

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