There is a bittersweet tenor to hear Buffy Ford-Stewart, the widow of legendary Americana singer-songwriter, John Stewart, sing his most familiar song, “Daydream Believer,” with the late Davy Jones(in his final studio performance) who, with The Monkees brought the tune to the top of the charts in 1967. Written on a whim after spending hours attempting to create the definitive American song, its simplicity and magic shine through on this new rendition of the classic hit song as though it were written yesterday. The song reflects Buffy Ford Stewart and John’s lifestyle during the time when he left The Kingston Trio and before he began his solo career in earnest. In this case Buffy was the ‘Daydream Believer.’ Today she is also the keeper of the flame of John Stewart’s creative legacy.
Her new release,Same Old Heart is a long-over due gem of an album. For the uninitiated, John Stewart is one of the founding fathers of today’s Americana music movement. His career spanned five decades as he journeyed through folk, rock, country and pop boundaries influencing such artists as Lindsey Buckinghan, John Denver, Rosanne Cash and Nanci Griffith. After making his name as one of the Kingston Trio(he replaced Dave Guard on banjo in 1961) he wrote ‘Daydream Believer,” for The Monkees. In 1968, he and Buffy sang for Senator Robert F. Kennedy on his ill-fated last campaign. He then launched a solo career that would produce a legacy of American song comparable to the literary work of John Steinbeck, the photographs of Ansel Adams and the paintings Andrew Wyeth. His first album after the Kingston Trio was with Buffy, Signals Through The Glass. It stands today as a neglected piece of Americana history echoing the grief and confusion of the nation after the deaths of President Kennedy and his brother and the Vietnam era. His first solo album, California Bloodlines, is among the best of its era. Today it still stands strong and sounds effortless in doing what many Americana artists strive for in terms of simplicity, vision and soul.
Same Old Heart is as much a witness to the impact John Stewart had on the most significant person in his life as it is to the joy found after years of struggle with grief and loss. It is an honest collection of songs that reflects the vulnerability and the wisdom found in the midst of personal trials. But, the album points to the way out through tribute, songs, poetry and a community of support. More than anything, the relationship between John and Buffy was a celebration of life through music, creativity and spirituality. What comes through the strongest on her first album since John’s death in 2008, is a bittersweet sense of that same celebration she now offers to the world around her. She is like a wise, sometimes road-weary muse who comes out from behind the legacy of song she influenced her husband to create to offer us the same inspiration. This is the core of Same Old Heart.
Along the way special guests like Rosanne Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Timothy B Scmidt, Dan Hicks and Nanci Griffith, join her for unique interpretations of John’s and her own songs. There are some real gems here for fans of John Stewart. Probably most significant is hearing Kris Kristoferson sing the unreleased, “Snakes of Nuevo Laredo.” John once gave Kris a song-nod on, Canons in the Rain’s “Durango,” about his audition for the part of Billy the Kid in Sam Peckinpah’s classic western. He lost the part to Kris. “The Snakes of Nuevo Laredo” returns John and Kris to Mexico and the result is a fine interpretation of a never-before-heard song. There is something right about hearing Kris sing the lyrics of another great song poet. On the exquisite “Some Kind of Love,” Buffy shares vocals with Shauna Morrison(Van’s daughter), and Eliza Gilkyson. Another rarely heard John Stewart song, “Redemption for the Man,” is given a playful sexy narrative gender-twist with Rosanne Cash joining Buffy. The title track, “Same Ole Heart,” is haunting in how it is so suited for Buffy today, as though John knew and wrote the song with an eye toward what the future would hold for her. Also, on this song, The Eagles’ Timothy B Smidt provides some of the sweetest harmony to be heard this side of Poco.
The songs written by Buffy reflect her journey since John died. They are honest, open and deeply romantic with the thread of bittersweet love that runs through the entire album. But, songs like “Out of the Blue,” “You Really Loved Me,” and “Once in a Lifetime,” are at the core of what made both Buffy and John Stewart’s relationship one of the great love stories in popular music. It’s very simply the depth of love for each other that flows out of these songs. It demonstrates life and love’s durability and timelessness. And in every note she sings and every words she writes, its easy to hear where John Stewart’s creativity and inspiration came from. Finally, on the song, “Find Your Shoes,” she sings about the triumph over the depression that plagues us all after the death of someone we love. She sings, “Get up and find your shoes/Get up and lose the blues,” and she means it because she lived it.
Probably most poignant is the final track, “If You Should Remember Me,” which John wrote almost as his own eulogy nearly a decade before his death. As she sings, the unmistakable vulnerability in her voice brings a new irony to the words,
“The rain crow calls to the setting sun/the curtain falls on everyone/all my love was holy art/that I might within your heart.”
Then, she answers the songwriter back in the final lines of the last track on the album,
“Johnny we’ll remember you and all your songs and lyrics too and we will always keep a spark that burns forever in our hearts.”
For Buffy Ford Stewart, Same Old Heart, is a testament to her love for her husband. It is also a demonstration for others who may grieve in similar ways that while the way out is the way through, there is a new light and love to be found through personal creativity and the willingness to reach out to others. If she truly is that ‘same old heart’ John Stewart sang about, we’re lucky to have her back.