Depending on which story you choose to believe, American singer-songwriter Jake Smith took the stage name The White Buffalo either because it had the sound of the mystical about it – The White Buffalo being an important figure in Lakota Indian mythology – or by drawing it out of a hat of suggestions made by friends and family. Either way Smith has a way with evocative titles, as attested to by such album titles as Hogtied Like a Rodeo, and Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways, which is a trend he has not broken with his fifth album, Love and the Death of Damnation.
Raised on country music as a child, Smith discovered punk bands like Bad Religion and Circle Jerks in his teen years, and musically Love and the Death of Damnation predominately hangs around the corner of acoustic-country and folk, but there is a clear punk-rock attitude that permeates the record and through the course of album Smith doesn’t shy away from integrating elements of other genres, such as blues and soul, into his songs which leaves each song sounding fresh and beckons the listener onward towards the end of the album. Each song is augmented by the solid instrumentation of Matt Lynott, who has been drumming with The White Buffalo for the past 12 years, and Bruce Witkin who provided bass. Witkin co-produced the album with engineer Ryan Dorn, and between them they clearly know how to capture Smith’s songs in a compelling way.
Smith emphasises the gravelly aspects of his baritone to great effect on songs like the driving Dark Days, the sing-along Home Is In Your Arms, and the blues-rock infused Rocky. The mournful Last Call to Heaven demonstrates that Smith can deftly soften his voice and introduce a fragility to it when required, something that almost seems incongruous with his woodsman-meets-aging-rocker appearance. Audra Mae lends her vocal prowess to the duet I Got You, and the interplay of the two singers’ voices is nothing short of gorgeous. Love and the Death of Damnation shows that The White Buffalo is confident and going from strength to strength.