Buffalo Nichols ain’t messing around.
The blues and folk music started as outlets for Black voices and stories, and singer-songwriter Nichols is determined to bring that experience back to those musical forms. The first stop on that quest is his eponymous debut LP and, with it, Nichols’ mission is off to one helluva start.
Nichols sings the blues like it’s his life’s calling, and over the course of the eight tracks on Buffalo Nichols, he establishes himself as a talent to be reckoned with in the genre. As a lyricist, he weighs some heavy shit and his heartfelt delivery hammers it home.
“Another Man” is an aching lamentation on the violence Black men and women face in America, whether it’s coming from white supremacists or legal institutions. Nichols sings,
It’s hard to write a song while folks get murdered every day
I know it ain’t so simple
I just know I’m mad as hell
Why should we choose between a noose and dying in a Cell?
In the song’s penultimate stanza, Nichols makes this fear personal when he notes “They killed another man / Police pulled a gun on me / I was only Seventeen / But I could have been that man.” As a result of this trauma, he reaches the conclusion that:
Some folks believe the lies
They’re fooled by the disguise
No need to hide behind a white hood
When a badge works just as good.
“Another Man” is the most political track on the record, but Nichols is just as impactful when examining his own day-to-day life and role in the world. Lead single and album opener “Lost and Lonesome” traces his personal journey. Nichols sings of “wandering on my own,” just trying to find himself and his voice. “Back on Top” tells of hand-to-mouth existence, when having a little extra money in your pocket to blow on a good time is enough to make you feel rich.
This type of consistently intimate storytelling, combined with Nichols’ nuanced, heartfelt vocal delivery, is what makes Buffalo Nichols such a rewarding listen and one of the most promising debut records to come out in quite some time. It’s definitely worth multiple listens.