Rambles.NET – Randy Lee Riviere (pronounced Revere) used to record, opaquely, as Mad Buffalo. In 2008 and 2012, when I reviewed two of these albums, I remarked on his apparent desire to maintain his privacy. Even his website carried no photograph of him. On Wyoming we get to see a picture of the man, a rugged-looking Western guy wearing a cowboy hat and clutching an acoustic guitar with a weathered barn behind him. We learn that he grew up in Northern California but some years ago moved to rural Montana, where he remains, to work as a wildlife biologist.
He certainly has found his own sound, more prairie folk (of a sometimes rocked-up sort) than cowboy culture in the vein of Ian Tyson, Michael Martin Murphey and their contemporaries. In fact, cowboys are minor, barely visible figures in Riviere’s desolate, unromantic Wyoming landscape. The album has something of the noirish atmospherics of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town , except with more open space and fewer inhabitants.
Riviere is possessed of a rough, lived-in voice more fitted to expressions of lament and sorrow than to sentimentality and celebration. Life is a hard row to hoe in Riviere country, populated by suffering people who mostly keep their burdens to themselves. There are practically no thoughts of love, but plenty of shadows of passing souls. He sings these, all originals with a single co-write and one instrumental (the title tune), as gloomy ruminations, though you could experience his “Dependence Day” — seemingly about the tragic legacy of the Indian Wars — as a bitter and terrifying vision.
I live in a small rural town on the edge of the West, of which I have seen enough to harbor no teary-eyed illusions. I wouldn’t want to live there, and given my politics and general outlook, I doubt that I’d be welcome. Riviere’s creations are the testimony of an observant, articulate stranger warning us that the imagined West, the one long defined in popular culture, is only that.
I’ve heard plenty of Western music, everything from authentic range ballads to Hollywood buckaroo confections to the neo-folk songs of the cowboy-culture school, but nothing quite like this. Riviere writes and sings with a kind of intensity and power one does not encounter routinely.
Having been there a number of times, I have no particular desire to visit Wyoming again, but I suspect I’ll keep returning to Wyoming . Riviere’s stories speak their own awful, beautiful truths.