Tara and Jeb of Donna The Buffalo
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Western Centuries has embarked on a somewhat unique experiment in songwriting and performing; three people, Cahalen Morrison, Ethan Lawton and Jim Miller sharing the songwriting and lead singing duties in the band equally. We met in Seattle in 2010 through the lively traditional music scene in the area.
Five years ago, we decided to write and perform original material as a unit. In 2016 we put out Weight of the World, our first record featuring songs from all three writers.
Our second record, Songs from the Deluge, came out in 2018. Although Western Centuries initially met through bluegrass, old time and early country music, with each record the songs have stretched further and further away from a traditional mold. Our third, Call the Captain, recorded and produced in June 2019 by Bill Reynolds in his Nashville studio, represents by far our most interesting and varied set of songs yet.
Call the Captain is a collection of 12 tracks, ranging from intimate acoustic based songs, to country, R & B, and straight up rock and roll. The experiment continues in a time when record labels are signing bands based on algorithms and likes, it's refreshing to work with a band that puts in the work to create a sound together; something a plug in or a computer can't replicate.
“Western Centuries are masters at what they do: Write songs, harmonize, and play music together. From a producer who lives on those older records where bands toured and put lots of blood and sweat into their sound, I am very grateful to be involved with a band that works so hard. It's a damn blast to record; the 2 inch tape machine just eats it up.” - Bill Reynolds (Producer of Call the Captain)
Donna the Buffalo offers everything you want in a roots band -- songs that matter, a groove that makes you dance, an audience that spans generations, and a musical voice that evokes a sense of community.
Dance in the Street, their first new album in five years, captures the dynamic energy that has earned the band the love and respect of their fans, “the Herd”, for thirty years.
Donna The Buffalo is well known for their lyrics about human potential and community. Throughout Dance in the Street, Jeb Puryear and Tara Nevins, the band’s co-founders, share songs of social commentary and self empowerment. “We feel the album provides an enjoyable ride between the general and the personal, from both male and female perspectives,” says Puryear.
Puryear took it upon himself to write a topical song after a friend slyly commented, “We could use some songs like you used to write.” That off-handed remark led directly to “Dance in the Street,” which falls somewhere between Bob Dylan and Bob Marley, with lyrics:
For change of rule, we had better stand,
Before there’s nowhere left to land,
Doomed to histories repeat,
It’s time to dance in the street.
Nevins adapted the imagery in the lyrics from “Dance in the Street” to create the globally-inspired album cover.
“My songs on this record are about letting go,” says Nevins. “Whether it be the attachment of love lost, the past, or the particular blue funk you’re coming out of.” Nevins in particular adds an interesting twist of “creating future” in Motor, the inspired second cut of the album with the chorus:
You’ll be dancing under the moon before too long,
You’ll be flying high as a kite when the wind gets blowing,
You’ll be right back where you started,
You’ll be holding tight to the motor that gets you going.
Donna the Buffalo joined forces with legendary Producer/ Engineer Rob Fraboni to record Dance in the Street at Sonic Ranch Studio in El Paso, Texas. Best known as producer of The Last Waltz soundtrack, Fraboni is also acclaimed for his work with Bob Dylan, The Band, Eric Clapton, and The Rolling Stones. Fraboni set out to capture the essence of Donna The Buffalo’s live performances on a studio record. He had the band record in a circle directly to tape. Dance In The Street is a fully analog recording all the way to vinyl. The track list alternates in his-and-hers fashion; even so, Nevins believes the album makes a cohesive statement. “We think of it as painting a picture and I like the picture that we’ve painted with this record,” she says.
Nevins and Puryear have nurtured a close friendship after meeting at an old-time fiddle convention years ago. In 1989 they landed their first gig in a Trumansburg, NY restaurant setting Puryear and Nevins on their musical path. During that time, Puryear took note of Nevins’ songwriting ability – “the first person I met that wrote songs that sounded like you could hear them on the radio”. While they mostly write separately, their music is often on the same wavelength.“ Our history is so long and very successful musically,” he says. “She’s my best friend – we’ve done this forever. It’s a big part of what makes it still interesting to do. We definitely have a good, rough-and-tumble, super-longstanding respect and love.”
Donna The Buffalo is not just a band, rather one might say that Donna The Buffalo has become a lifestyle for its members and audiences. The band has played thousands of shows and countless festivals including Bonnaroo, Newport Folk Festival, Telluride, Austin City Limits Festival, Merle Fest, and Philadelphia Folk Festival. At several festivals Donna The Buffalo has become the house band for closing the events by backing up artists including The Avett Brothers, Keller Williams, Zac Brown, Bela Fleck, John Paul Jones, and Chris Thile. They’ve opened for The Dead and have toured with Peter Rowan, Del McCoury, Los Lobos, Little Feat, Jim Lauderdale, Rusted Root, and Railroad Earth to name a few. They also toured with Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen to help raise awareness about increased corporate spending in politics. In 1991, the band started the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival in Trumansburg, NY. The four day festival has become an annual destination for over 15,000 music lovers every year and was started as an AIDS benefit. It continues as a benefit for arts and education. To date, the event has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and is now one of three Grassroots Festivals; the Bi-annual Shakori Hills fest in North Carolina and Virginia Key festival in Florida. In 2016 GrassRoots Culture Camp was introduced in Trumansburg, New York as four days of music, art, dance and movement workshops, including nightly dinners and dances.
“Successes? We have certainly tried to make a difference in the world, trying to inspire ourselves and others to treat their lives as a work of art, and our collective destiny as something that we are creating, not just something we are subject to. And at the same time we’re having a blast, who wouldn’t want to ride around on a bus playing music with their friends?” Puryear added.
The most loyal fans in the Herd are always eager to accept a call to action. Last year Donna the Buffalo started a crowdfunding campaign to buy a new tour bus; within three weeks, they had raised $90,000. “You can imagine how validating that felt for us,” Nevins says, still overwhelmed at the generosity.
By creating a bridge between generations, Donna the Buffalo attracts one of the broadest demographics on the festival circuit. When Nevins encounters young women in the autograph line, she likes to write “Girl Power!” She’s proud to see them looking up at the stage and watching a female musician really getting down, comprehending that they could do the same thing one day. In addition, Puryear has noted that Vietnam veterans have gravitated to the band. During a songwriting workshop, Puryear sang “Killing A Man,” which examines the complicated psychological ramifications of ending another person’s life. He felt uncertain about recording it, he says, until a veteran came up and asked him how he got those emotions exactly right.
Dance In The Street closes with “I Believe,” a song with a message of support. From the stage, Nevins often hears men and women singing it with her. “I think our message is encouraging. It’s something for people to latch onto,” she says. “And what an awesome sound and feeling to hear an audience en masse singing your song with you.”
Donna the Buffalo draws on a lot of musical influences, from country and rock ‘n’ roll, to bluegrass and old-time fiddle, as well as Cajun and Zydeco. In many ways, they were Americana before the term was ever coined. The common thread? Songs of the human spirit, and an incredibly tight relationship with their fans.
“The fans, they show up to be a part of it. We show up to be a part of it,” Puryear says. “And we don’t have an intimidating vibe where we’re different than them. If a scene is really on, it doesn’t matter whether you’re watching, listening, dancing, or playing – it’s on, everybody knows it’s on and it feels great! I think that’s the nature of the connection.”
The Grey Eagle
185 Clingman Ave
Asheville, NC, 28801