of Donna The Buffalo
LIVE on Folk & Beyond with Aer Stephen
Thursday, June 9, 2011, 6:00 PM
Aer Stephen welcomes Tara Nevins of Donna the Buffalo to stop by to play a few tunes unplugged, and partake in some conscious evolution this evening. Donna the Buffalo's band leader has a new solo CD recently released that was recorded at Levon Helm Studios, produced by 2 time Grammy award-winner Larry Campbell (who also performs on the album), and released on Sugar Hill Records. Wood and Stone is Tara Nevins’ exploration of her own heritage, musical and otherwise, & showcases her ever-evolving repertoire as she journeys both back to her own “roots” and head-long into new territory. It is her first solo album since Mule to Ride in 1999.
Although a college graduate trained in classical music, when Tara Nevins became captivated by the more elemental sounds of traditional music and embraced a somewhat bohemian lifestyle to follow its calling, her parents approved and supported her decision. “Wood and Stone,” the title track to her new album of the same name, takes a nostalgic look back at her childhood, the family she calls “the better part of me,” and is in part a tribute to her own “roots.” The oldest of three sisters and two brothers, Nevins grew up in Orangeburg, New York in an idyllic setting, yet just twenty minutes north of the George Washington Bridge. Across the road were a huge field and a horse farm where her father raised horses. Down the lane, Clausland Mountain, with the Hudson River flowing on the other side, stretched across the horizon. “My parents moved there from Greenwich Village in New York City,” Nevins explains. “They were the first of their circle of friends to leave the city for what seemed like the ‘boondocks,’ back then. My parents always loved music and were great dancers too. So almost every weekend, from Friday night to Sunday night, our house would be filled with their hip friends from the Village ready for a wild time ‘in the country,’ and at night they’d push back the couches, roll up the rugs, and clear a dance floor –and they’d have these insane parties and dance all night.”
Before Donna the Buffalo, Nevins co-founded The Heartbeats, an all-female old-time band. Together for ten years, they still get together occasionally and guest on her new album. Now Nevins is also a twenty-one year veteran of Donna the Buffalo (largely sharing the singing and songwriting for the band with co-founder Jeb Puryear and playing multiple instruments—including the accordion) Her first solo album in 1999, Mule to Ride, featured her fiddle playing, not her songwriting or singing, and was an“old-time music meets bluegrass kind of record” she felt comfortable producing herself. “Wood and Stone is completely different,” she points out. “It’s mostly originals—I sing everything. There’s fiddle on there, but it doesn’t feature it in the same way. And I wanted a producer this time because I wasn’t sure exactly how to put across what I wanted to express.”
Nevins, having spent much time in the south, considered making the record in Nashville, but ultimately decided “her own backyard” was the better fit. Wood and Stone was recorded in Woodstock, New York at Levon Helm’s studio and is produced by Larry Campbell (The Making of Wood and Stone: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 ), a much-sought-after musician/producer renowned for his work with Bob Dylan and still rolling from the success of Helm’s two Grammy- winners, “Dirt Farmer” and “Electric Dirt.” “I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Larry Campbell. I am honored to have had him both produce and play on my record. He’s an amazingly talented and soulful musician. He has a very natural, down-to-earth approach and an instinctual insightfulness that I really appreciate; he really “got” what I was after.”
“’Team Levon’ was fabulous,” Nevins says. “Everyone made me feel very welcome and Levon himself plays drums on two of the songs –‘You’ve Got It All’ and ‘The Beauty of the Days Gone By.’ Justin Guip did the engineering and played drums on most of the tracks, Byron Isaacs was on upright bass, Larry played acoustic guitar and I played fiddle or guitar– the four of us were the ‘core’ band.” Campbell also played electric guitar, pedal steel, mandolin, banjo, cittern, and harmonium and does some double fiddling with Nevins. In addition, Nevins plays accordion and tambourine. The Heartbeats join her on a couple of songs and Teresa Williams and Allison Moorer provide harmony, as does Jim Lauderdale, most notably on the touching ballad, “Songbird.”
The intensely personal nature of Wood and Stone is also a branching out for Nevins. Several years ago, an abrupt ending to her long-standing, largely untroubled marriage left her shaken, fomenting emotions she had never felt before. “I always thought that I would be with one person forever and when that didn’t happen, it just really turned my head around,” she admits. Her subsequent relationships also incited new awareness and sentiments and these songs, she says, came pouring out as result of those experiences. “Wood and Stone is a personal expression of these emotional discoveries …these relationships over the last several years that I lost and found. And in the process…figuring out who I am…who Tara Nevins is, because as much as I fell, I also gained my personal strength and independence back.”
While the album has a traditional music undertone, with threads of old-time fiddle, Cajun and Zydeco influence, Wood and Stone is also laced with a bit of country, a dash of gospel and pinch of pop. “It’s scary to like your own record,” Nevins says laughing, “but I’m kind of proud of it. I was worried because it’s a female writing and singing all these relationship songs—I didn’t want it to come across like I had just created a musical ‘chick flick’ …but the men who have heard it so far seem to like it. I made a disc for this family friend in Tennessee. He liked it, particularly ‘Tennessee River’ and said he identified with the guy in ‘You’re Still Driving That Truck.’ When he said ‘Well, I can take the Van Halen CD out of my computer now… ‘cause this one’s gonna stay in there for a while’ I felt really good, you know?—it made me smile.”
Straight-forward, natural and plaintive, Wood and Stone is a Tour de Tara, showcasing her considerable talents and offering what Larry Campbell calls her “worldly awareness combined with a fragile innocence” through word and song on thirteen distinctive, heart-felt tracks. Ten of the thirteen tracks are originals, and Nevins’ complexity gets a broad stage. She dispenses wit and wisdom with an atypical take on love and relationships through gritty songs such as “You’ve Got It All” and “You’re Still Driving That Truck,” then turns to wrenching hearts with songs like “Snowbird” (accompanied by Jim Lauderdale), a beautiful metaphorical ballad about the pain of loving someone unable to truly give back, and “Tennessee River,” a haunting, gripping song about the stranglehold love can have over a person’s whole existence. “Stars Fell on Alabama” sounds like it fell from her heart and pen too, but Nevins has the capacity to take a well-known standard like this, change the melody, and perform it so ingenuously that it fits in seamlessly to the whole groove of the record.
The record is “framed” by another nostalgic piece, “The Beauty of the Days Gone By” (by Van Morrison), bringing the record full-circle and serving as a sort of catharsis for the dark tone of “Tennessee River”. “I wanted to end the record with it,” Nevins explains, “because I love the sentiment of the song and it’s kind of like ‘the sun always comes back out’ kind of thing. We grow and learn and take our relationships with us for better and for worse and that’s life in all its beauty and glory.” Nevins’s rare blend of enormous talent coupled with genuine down-home humbleness has won the hearts of fans and colleagues alike. “Tara has this worldly awareness combined with a fragile innocence,” Larry Campbell notes, “which makes her songwriting and music very accessible…very appealing.” Wood and Stone is sure to add to that appeal.reprinted with permission