While the name may not be familiar, realize that singer/songwriter Randy Lee Riviere (pronounced “Ri-VEER) up until now has been recording under the moniker Mad Buffalo, via which he released four albums. So, he breaks free of that and now delivers a sweeping and lyrical soundscape of the American West with an eye toward preserving its environment while calling out corporate greed and development on Wyoming. His 13 original songs backed by some of the best roots musicians (Delbert’s guys) in producer/engineer/mixer Kevin McKendree and master of strings James Pennebaker, along with McKendree’s son , Yates, who plays lead guitar on one track. Joining them are drummer Kenneth Blevins (John Hiatt), and bassist David Santos.
McKendree, who has produced not only Delbert but Tinsley Ellis, John Hiatt, Big Joe Maher, and others, offered this, “I was initially drawn to producing this project because of the depth of Randy’s lyrics. He cares deeply about our environment, his family, Native American culture and the beauty of the Western land. His lyrics illustrate those things in a very moving and poetic way. The songs all have something ‘classic’ about them, though they are brand new. Randy made it clear to me that he wanted the music to paint a picture of the vast Wyoming landscape. I think we accomplished that. He wrote the song, ‘Boys’ about his sons growing up. I really related to his lyrics, so I had my son, Yates, who’s now grown, play the lead guitar on that song.”
When we mention western landscapes, you may envision pedal steel guitar, fiddle, and some desert psychedelia. Yet, while Pennebaker handles a few of those same instruments and we get close to that sound on “Eighth Wonder” and “Morning,” the bulk of the album has a heavy, Neil Young & Crazy Horse feel. In a voice that’s similar to folksinger Eric Andersen, Riviere sings passionately about what’s important to him in “Our Town,” about protecting it from encroaching, harmful development a song which takes on even more gravitas now in these pandemic times – “Time is in my eyes/Green grass/With concrete sides…Iron made these rails/Cold Steel/Hammers and nails…Why tear it down?/This old town/Just got run down.”
You’ll hear the echoes of Native American chants in the opening “Lots to Say” and in other places. The song “Red Rain” speaks directly to the early sad chapters of the American West through the life of a young Native American who matured, married, and became a leader who was and is forced to confront an onslaught of invaders. All his tribe could do to attempt to stop these relentless greedy human beings was to bring “Red Rain,” a hard rain. “Fences” (“I build fences with my hands/Like my brother and my dad/Before”) speaks to how the lives and roles of working people are unfortunately taken for granted. “Morning,” a ballad, yearns for the better moments of the past (‘And the stars are gone/What once was right seems so wrong/And the land’s quite gone”) with more of the western soundscape that one might expect.
As mentioned, Randy Lee Riviere formerly recorded under the moniker of “Mad Buffalo,” a project he started back in the early 2000s, a run that comprised four albums – A Good Bad Road – an ode to a rugged road along the western border of Glacier National Park … and his hero ‘Cactus Ed’ … Edward Abbey. Fool Stand was where an intense bout of reading about our Civil War tragedy met up with our invasion of Iraq. Mad Buffalo’s third album was Wilderness, a move toward ‘Americana.’ The fourth and final MB record was Red and Blue, with the title track that speaks for itself.
Know that Riviere puts his mouth and efforts where his music sits. He’s devoted himself to preserving the spirit of the land and—with the help of some perpetual conservation easements—he’s made efforts to protect upwards of 40,000 acres of wilderness from development.
As the album unfolds you will find a full menu of country, rock, and folk music and shifting moods that tell both past and modern-day stories. There are both reverences for his homeland and anger for present-day issues coursing through this project. He saves the title track as the closer, yes, this is the one that will enable you to best picture the splendor of the wide-open spaces and big skies. You may even think back fondly to those westerns you used to watch on TV as a youngster.
About the author: Jim Hynes
Jim Hynes is an independent contributor on music for several magazines, including Elmore and formerly Variety. He was a listener-supported public station(s) radio host for 25 years in CT, MI, NJ and PA. He is also a Live Music Host/Emcee at several national and regional venues.