About The Band
Listening to Buffalo Rose is like driving on the open road with the windows down, letting the breezes of various musical styles wash over you. Buffalo Rose commandeers the shimmering and electrifying riffs of the mandolin (Bryce Rabideau), the cascading guitar arpeggios of folk and bluegrass (Shane McLaughlin), the ringing purity of the dobro (Malcolm Inglis), and the steady percussive thrum of upright bass (Jason Rafalak), providing a effervescent blanket of sound under and around which the ethereal harmonies of Lucy Clabby, Rosanna Spindler, and McLaughlin float. There’s a singular beauty in every Buffalo Rose song, whether the group is covering Madonna’s “Borderline” or delivering their stirring original material.
The members of the band met four years ago in the Pittsburgh area. “All of us were active in the Pittsburgh music scene,” says McLaughlin. Each of them was playing different kinds of music, from folk to punk. They formed in 2016 when former member Mariko Reid got together with Clabby and McLaughlin to record McLaughlin’s tune “Momma Have Mercy.” Before long the three had met up with Rabideau and Rafalak, and the band’s first EP, Red Wagon, debuted in November 2016.
“Once we had Bryce and Jason,” says Clabby, “we had our rhythm section. We call Bryce our drummer because of the percussive way he plays mandolin.” While their following grew in the Pittsburgh area, they gained national attention opening for bands such as the Infamous Stringdusters, Dustbowl Revival, and Dangermuffin. In March 2018, the band gathered the music they had been playing on the road and released their first full-length album, The Soil and the Seed. After Spindler replaced Reid in the fall of 2018, the band eventually released their Big Stampede EP in November 2019.
Every now and then a recording comes along where the spirit in the recording studio is palpable, and the band recreates that spirit in the recording, and Buffalo Rose does just that on their new EP Borrowed and Blue. The album brilliantly showcases the band’s layered musical textures and the splendor of the group’s harmonies. As Clabby says, “these songs came from different time periods in our career as a band. When we performed, we got used to performing in linear fashion, with the singers up front and instruments lined up behind. When we practice, though, we sing acoustic and in a circle. We wanted to find a way to communicate that style on the record.” McLaughlin adds, “I think it was about presenting our songs in a unique way. We want to present our music the way it sounds live, and the forms of our songs change over time.” Buffalo Rose captures dynamically the soul-rending power of each song on Borrowed and Blue, inviting us into the circle to let the warm sounds wash over us.
Borrowed and Blue opens with a stunningly gorgeous cover of Madonna’s “Borderline.” Rabideau’s spare mandolin runs and riffs introduce the tune before guitar, bass, dobro, and vocals blend in a sonic chamber music style that reveals the purity of the harmonies and the crystalline translucence of the lead vocals. On the bridge, the bass thrums under the guitar and mandolin, almost in call and response fashion. “Borderline” was Clabby’s idea. “When we first started out as a band, we played on-the-note covers, but played in our style of instrumentation. I’ve been trying to come up with a new style, and go in the opposite direction,” she says.
“Rocketship” is one of the songs Buffalo Rose plays live a lot. “I love the presentation of it,” says McLaughlin, who wrote it. It came out as a single last spring. The song opens sparsely with a measure of acappella vocal backed by Rafalak’s rhythmic bass slaps, and the first verse floats along in this sparse fashion before launching into a jet-fueled chorus that lifts the song into another world. The lead vocals carry the song higher and higher in modulating notes, climaxing in a soulful shout. Inglis’ dobro drives the slowly unfolding instrumental bridge that serves as rest stop before the song launches into a higher key, with harmonies orbiting the instruments. “Rocketship” recalls the joyous and energetic melodies of Birds of Chicago.
“Momma Have Mercy” was the catalyst for the band, says McLaughlin. “It’s the oldest song on the album; I wrote it before the band even existed,” he recalls. “It was my senior year of college, and I was walking back after class. I felt like I needed to release some energy.” It begins with a duet between the guitar and mandolin and opens up into a soulful tune that features a dobro run that would be at home on a Burrito Brothers album and a chorus that comfortably stretches into an anthemic soul sound.
“The Journey,” taking its opening phrases and riffs from the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil,” opens as a scurrying bluegrass rambler, replete with breathless harmonies. A third of the way in, though, the song slows down and the band stretches out vocally and instrumentally. Without warning, the tune gambols off into a psychedelic shuffle that’s a cross between Buffalo Springfield and It’s a Beautiful Day. “This was one of the first songs that Shane and I wrote together,” Clabby recalls. “We were searching for our identity in sound and experimenting with different textures,” says McLaughlin. Clabby adds, “Shane had the chords for the first half, but for the second half of the song he wasn’t sure where to take them, so we just started singing vowels over the chords and came up with the words.”
McLaughlin wrote the bittersweet ballad “Cigarettes and Whiskey” while he was on the clock at the restaurant where he was working at the time. As Clabby says, “each of the vocalists leads a verse, and it’s a beautiful moment of the instruments intersecting with one another.” In some ways it’s the highlight of the album, for every band member has the chance to showcase his or her artistry, even as the individual parts blend into a heart-rending unity. There may be no more beautiful breakup song than this one. “People almost always request this song,” she says.
The album closes with a cover medley of “Seven Nation Army” and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Rabideau’s mandolin scampers along, joined by Inglis’ dobro, McLaughlin’s guitar, and Rafalak’s bass; it’s a fitting close to the album, for it’s a celebration of the band’s true artistry and of their shining creativity. As Clabby points out, “this mashup came from the laboratory of my trying to expand. We’ve been playing ‘Seven Nation Army’ for a long time and people love to hear it; it’s kind of a tribute to my parents and my musical upbringing. ‘Sweet Dreams’ fits just perfectly with it and keeps it fresh and exciting.”
Since their formation in 2016, Buffalo Rose has grown from being a collection of musicians to being a band. As McLaughlin points out, “we try and be present and be in touch with the breadth of human emotions. Our music provides the space to get in touch with emotions that are sometimes hard to deal with.” Clabby confirms this: “when I started exploring folk music, I learned that it means the people’s music. We play music by and for the people; our music explores what it means to be human, and it affirms that we are a community.”
Delicate and wild, thorny and untamed, Buffalo Rose weaves spiraling harmonies and gorgeously layered instrumentation with propulsive rhythms as it creates a mesmerizing wall of sound that leaves listeners breathless.
vocals // Lucy Clabby
vocals & guitar // Shane McLaughlin
mandolin // Bryce Rabideau
vocals // Rosanna Spindler
dobro // Malcolm Inglis
bass // Jason Rafalak