The two lead singers, Tara Nevins and Jeb Puryear, are a study in contrasts. She is as intense as you can get – all nerves and bone. She plays I don’t know how many instruments, all well, and seems focused on each with all her being. She’s gotta be exhausted after each and every performance.
Maybe the most powerful weapon in her arsenal of instruments is her voice which flows in and out of each track effortlessly. She doesn’t miss a note and her voice weaves a complicated pattern in the music.
Jeb seems to hang out on the opposite end of the tension spectrum. I’ve seen him play – he’s so relaxed, he could be asleep but his hands keep playing and his voice keeps singing. He wears a funny hat. His voice has a cynical edge to it and yet, it’s hypnotic. And he sounds great.
In spite of the apparent differences, the harmonies between the two are dead on.
The disc starts with two of its strongest songs: “Way Back When” and “Blue Sky, a quick one-two punch. The first from Jeb, the next from Tara. But almost every track on this disc is outstanding: other highlights are “”Life’s A Ride,” “Love and Gasoline,” “These Are Better Days,” and “When Love Comes Around.” The songs alternate between the ones written by Nevins and the ones written by Puryear. It’s all good.
The band is: Tom Gilbert on drums, Jim Miller on electric guitar and vocals, Bill Reynolds on bass, and Kathy Ziegler on Lowry organ, synthesizer, clavinet, and vocals. Puryear plays electric and acoustic guitars and Nevins plays fiddle, accordion, acoustic guitar, scrubboard, and tambourine. Probably some other stuff too. Guest musicians on this disc include Mamadou Diabate (kora), Keith Secola (Native American flute), and Jed Greenberg (bass). Jonas Puryear helps with the vocals on “Everyday.”
The music itself is complex. They’ve been called a jam band. Well, yeah. I’ve seen them play. Any given song could be stretched out to 20 minutes or more and the audience would be just fine with that.
The beat is infectious. When you see them live, even if you can’t dance, you pretty much just can’t help yourself. You’re in the Donna Zone. And, once you’ve seen them, you’re re-infected every time you slip in one of their discs. I can’t explain it, exactly, but I can tell you I thought they were pretty good before I went to see them and came away from that with a whole different level of awareness.
If you don’t have any Donna the Buffalo yet or if you’re already a confirmed Donna follower, this one’s for you.