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Music Review: Buffalo Tom – Skins

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If you have a formula that works, stick with it.

That’s a methodology that has been used by countless successful rock bands, from AC/DC in Australia to the Dropkick Murphys in Boston, MA. Alternative rock veterans and fellow Boston natives Buffalo Tom have indeed followed this model, with its signature blend of moderately loud, hook-laden alternative rock and heartfelt folk pop gems that the trio of Bill Janovitz, Chris Colbourn and Tom Maginnis have written over the last 23 years of recording (with a nine-year hiatus between 1998 and 2007).

Memorable cuts among the seven studio records the trio has created since 1988 include hits “Summer,” “Taillights Fade,” “Sodajerk” and the soaring vocals of “Larry” (from the band’s best and third album, 1992′s Let Me Come Over). After reuniting for their mostly consistent comeback album Three Easy Pieces in 2007, Buffalo Tom again took some time off from recording.

The group is back with its eighth full-length, Skins, which is out (via the band-owned Scrawny Records) and available to purchase in popular records stores on and offline as of earlier this month.

Buffalo Tom - Skins (Album Cover)This is a band that does not mess around, so right away, fans will find that Buffalo Tom has hardly lost its ability to record a winning record (one that Charlie Sheen might even approve of! I wish.). Most of the elements you’d expect of Buffalo Tom’s sound can be found in first single and lead-off track “Arise, Watch,” which has light folk pop melodies that turn into loud guitars (with feedback near the end) and (briefly) loud vocals, It’s a good start to the record.

“She’s Not Your Thing” features some twangy lead vocals by bassist Chris Colbourn, and the first memorable set of backup vocals by guitarist and (normally) main singer Bill Janovitz during the choruses. The guitar pop tune exemplifies why these guys are such a great tag team as songwriters and vocalists. And of course, the tunes are always powered to the max by drummer Tom Maginnis.

Janovitz sounds as energized as ever on “Down,” with his emphatic phrasing of the song’s title and equally passionate vocals throughout the track. It hits gold status as far as highlights on the record is concerned when his rockin’ and chorus effect-aided electric guitar solo kicks into high gear halfway into it. The uptempo pop rocker “Guilty Girls” is another Janovitz-led highlight, as is the warm, electric guitar-fueled “Here I Come,” .

Skins tones down a bit with the airy, light guitars and piano on “Paper Knife.” It’s your typical chillout Buffalo Tom tune.

The optimistic and uplifting tune “The Big Light” features piano under the mix of distorted guitar and steady bass lines, while Colbourn takes the lead vocals on the acoustic-based pessimistic tune “Miss Barren Brookes” (who never liked “intellectuals” and feels “like dying,” among other things).

The band’s sound will never get old, but when Colbourn vocally leads “The Kids Just Sleep,” the fatherhood theme is the only sign these guys have aged. This tune does indeed reflect where the band members are in real life, family men in a rock and roll band in their 40s.

Local hero Tanya Donnelly (the former lead singer of Belly and member of Throwing Muses) duets with Janovitz on the pretty, lighthearted, reflective and Americana-esque track “Don’t Forget Me.” While not the best collaboration I’ve ever heard, it’s an easily digestible track that gets better with each press of the play button.

In all, it may not be as flawless and enjoyable track-by-track as Let Me Come Over, but Skins is certainly up there with other solid releases like 1995′s Sleepy Eyed, 1993′s Big Red Letter Day and Three Easy Pieces.

Skins comes in multiple packages (regular CD, CD deluxe featuring demos of all songs, and a vinyl edition), all of which include an immediate digital download of the album (DRM-free MP3 320 kbps or Apple Lossless files) and the four-song Bones EP, which was released for free earlier this year and can be found on the band’s own website.

Speaking of which, for more info on the band and current tour dates, visit buffalotom.com.

About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.