Three Easy Pieces
(UMG – 2007)
This is the Buffalo Tom record you have been waiting for.
Fans of the band know that their career is one of those Sloan or Replacement style arcs. They were the “next big thing” for years and years, always selling a fair number of records, but never blowing up in the mainstream as was expected. Musicians and music fans know this band, respect their work, love the songs, but at the same time, when an icon of your musical past puts out their first album in 9 years, you get nervous. Buffalo Tom hit their stride with 1992s “Let Me Come Over”, their third record, and released two more solid records, each one breathlessly painted as “the record that was going to break them.” While I enjoyed it and think there are a couple stellar tracks, Smitten, their last album from 1998, was far from their best.
I am not going to beat around the bush. I love “the Tom.” I work in the music biz and I went to Toronto June 7, nominally on business at the NXNE festival, but really, it was to see Buffalo Tom at the Horseshoe. I own all the records except the self titled, and also own Bill’s solo record. They played a smoking set, absolutely dominating the venue with a selection of hits from Let Me Come Over up to 1998s Smitten, they were as good as I remember them being last time I saw them in 1993.
Luckily, I got to meet the band (who I am trying to book to come to our festival!) and the manager gave me a promo copy of the record. It has been in constant rotation here, in my home, office, car, ipod.
From the stellar opener “Bad Phone Call”, a Bill number with lots of harmony on the chorus with Chris, through to the closing track “Thrown”, the pacing and energy of “Three Easy Pieces” never flags. Committed fans and new converts will enjoy the thoughtful ballad-esque tracks such as “You’ll Never Catch Him,” “Pendleton,” and “Lost Downtown”, and thrill to the rockers such as a classic sounding Tom song “Bottom of the Rain” or what to me are the two surprising standouts, “Renovating” and “Gravity.”
“Renovating” is a Chris track. Chris has more songs on this album than any previous. One of the exciting things about “Three Easy Pieces” is that Bill and Chris trade of chores and verse in the same song, something they did very infrequently in the past. The track is a happy up beat sounding song, even though the topic seems to be breaking up a relationship. It is an infectious to the point of being almost poppy and I have found my whole family singing along to the “ba da da da da da da” counterpoint that runs under the verses within 24 hours of bringing the record into the house.
“Gravity” is Bill track. The driving snare is meshed with harmonica, pipes has a marching band feel to it, and comes across as celtic/irish influenced. I love the track because it has this authentic Boston rock feel to it that just works without being forced or pretentious.
This album is neither derivative nor played out, which is often the case for bands that have been together for twenty years. The band put together 13 solid tracks that, while solidly a Buffalo Tom record, bring a lot of new song-writing, musicianship and lyrical content to the table, and this shows that the band’s sound has continued to mature and get better with time. In fact, the lyrics are about the types of issues that a couple of guys in their 40s who still rock are living with day to day, and that too is done in a way that is not over played or hokey, which is also an all to rare feat.
When the band took the stage in Toronto, I looked at Bill’s ring hand and was glad to see, yes, he is married. For 17 years I have been wondering if Lonesome Billy was as sad as he sang. I want Bill, Chris and Tom to keep cranking out moving, uplifting rock, for a long time yet, and be as happy writing and performing it as I am listening! I found out that night he is married with two kids.
Good for him, and good for the band for producing a record that is as good as anything they have ever released.