Published December 18, 2020
Buffalo Gals Band:
Melissa Carper and Rebecca Patek
Where the Heart Wants to Go
By Dale McCurry
Photos courtesy of Buffalo Gals
I’ve been happily spending a lot of the past several days with Where the Heart Wants to Go by Buffalo Gals Band featuring Melissa Carper and Rebecca Patek. The album has been well received by American and European folk radio, debuting in its first month at #3 on Euro-Americana charts.
It’s been a nice visit, a reunion of sorts, reminiscent of front-porch music, covered dishes, garden inspections, the smell of mown grass, and the laughter of children—punctuated with a smudge of silent sorrows … undiscovered resolutions … eyes turned inward from the treeline at the meadow’s edge.
… punctuated with a smudge of silent sorrows … undiscovered resolutions …
This album, this music, isn’t for everyone. It’s like baseball: Not enough pace for many—too much space separating action. Too much history; not enough now. Expansive geography, verdant and sparse. No slam dunks; no end-zone dances. At once poetic and precise, artful and sly. In no hurry; slow paced yet subject to surprise.
Rebecca Patek and Melissa Carper
For the Record
Where the Heart Wants to Go is the second album from Carper and Patek as a duo and the first to add a dash of “Band” to the combo mix.
“It’s our second album and first under the Buffalo Gals Band name,” says Melissa. “I’d say with this album we’ve combined the sparse intimate sound of the first one [Brand New Old-Time Songs] with a slightly fuller sound on about half of the songs. We’ve added accompaniment—Nate Baker on guitar on a few songs and also the engineer, Ben Sander, on guitar on a couple. This allowed us to play our main instruments more—fiddle [Patek] and bass [Carper].”
… Melissa’s equally lovely, yet edgier voice—laced with a side-of-the-mouth twang emitting from a hard-set jaw.
The expansion of their sound with the inclusion of the other players is noteworthy, but far from the overproduced, pop stars-in-cowboy-hats “country” music that often flirts with corrupting even the Americana and roots scene. The songlist is further enhanced by “several co-writes with friends and musical comrades.”
The Gals alternate lead vocals throughout the album, carefully accenting each song with rich harmonies, featuring Rebecca’s clean sound—as crisp and clear as an autumn day—commingled with Melissa’s equally lovely, yet edgier voice—laced with a side-of-the-mouth twang emitting from a hard-set jaw. The vocal cocktail combines to create an at-once classic-and-unique sound reminiscent of The Be Good Tanyas—if only in its simple uniqueness.
Photo by Aisha Golliher
The Heart Wants to Go
The album begins with three songs that combine to portend the coming together of diverse influences throughout the album.
“Arkansas Hills,” penned by Carper—who has a longstanding history with northwest Arkansas—and Donna Sioux Farar, features Melissa recounting a road-trip return to her Ozarks log cabin and the sweetheart waiting there for her.
I-44 west, out of old St. Louie
to 65 south into the Ozark Mountains.
I’m heading on home to my little log cabin.
The tempo and tune is alive with the anticipation of the song’s protagonist while Patek’s fiddle accompaniment hints at a wistful influence of western swing to be found here and there throughout the record—perhaps arising from the couple’s days in Austin where they met and live today.
… Patek’s fiddle accompaniment hints at a wistful influence of western swing to be found here and there throughout the record …
With cut # 2, Patek’s “Abilene,” we are treated to Rebecca’s pure, mournful vocal delivery as the story’s teller struggles to “hold onto Abilene” in this tale of love denied— presented over soulful guitar picking delivered at the pace of a dirge for the heart.
I’ve been loving you for a long time, now.
You always tell them we’re just friends.
They can plainly see the way I look at you.
I’ve never been good at pretend.
Though not the title tune, cut # 3, “Billy and Beau,” written by Melissa with Brennen Leigh, provides inspiration and verbiage for the name of the album. It also provides the record’s first surprise, perhaps most notably a surprise because it is one.
Set in the recent past in 4-H country of rural Nebraska, the song tells the tale of three young friends who share a secret—blue-eyed Beau, “tall and strong from shoveling snow,” and the boy and girl (the song’s narrator) who always looked up to him.
The heart wants to go
where the heart wants to go,
and you can’t undo it.
Billy never told me so,
but I just knew it:
Billy loved Beau.
Pray the Gay Away
I asked Melissa about “Beau,” admitting that the juxtaposition of its subject matter delivered by these instruments within this genre caught me off guard—acknowledging that part of the point is that it shouldn’t be heard as juxtaposition. The pain of it, after all, is as old as the more traditional secrets hidden under the long black veils of yestersongs.
“Yes, I know what you mean about juxtaposition,” she replied. “I feel like I’m being innovative—Ha!—just even writing about that subject with an old style of music.”
… as old as the more traditional secrets hidden under the long black veils of yestersongs.
Continuing with what Melissa called the “subject matter of the struggle of growing up gay in an environment in which it is not encouraged,” cut #6, “Pray the Gay Away,” is written like an old time gospel. “That’s thanks to Leigh,” Melissa confirmed. “She came up with the concept for that and the first line and chords and melody. Then I took it from there.”
No matter how much I pray,
everyday I wake up gay.
I wonder did God make me this way.
Pray, pray, pray the gay away.
Photo by Aisha Golliher
I particularly enjoyed Rebecca’s Dobro work coupled nicely with melodic guitar play on two back-to-back cuts late in the album. Cut #9 is a favorite interpretation of Jolie Holland’s roadsong “Route 30.” In the Gals’ hands, the song has the feel of the road built into it. One can almost hear the hum of tires.
You might be lost in a daydream
rolling down the road.
You might be watching that lonesome moon
sailing up above.
You might be telling a story.
You might be singing a song.
The perfectly simple and simply perfect guitar/Dobro play and orchestration of “Route 30” continues into cut #10, the Patek/Carper quarantine-worthy composition “I’d Just as Soon Stay Home.”
Robins coming ’round.
Spring is in the air.
They’re singing lovely tunes.
I like to stay right here.
Watch the buds begin to bloom.
Plant seeds into the ground.
Spend all that time traveling around.
I’d just as soon stay home.
It’s true, this album isn’t for everyone. But if you prefer dipping a toe in water named Sugar Creek to jet skiing to Party Cove, if you choose slow dancing under a paper lantern over laser shows and pyrotechnics, if you like discussing issues around a campfire rather than belittling “friends” via social media, this might be a record for you.
Billy and Beau
About the Buffalo Gals
The Buffalo Gals are an old-school country and folk duo consisting of Melissa Carper (guitar, banjo, bass, and vocals) and Rebecca Patek (fiddle, Dobro, guitar, and vocals) formed in Austin, Texas, where they met and now live. With the addition of Ben Sanders and Nate Baker on guitars, they become Buffalo Gals Band.
Their debut album Brand New Old-Time Songs—inspired by the music and nature of the Ozark Mountains—reached # 2 on the Folk Album charts for the Roots Music Report in July 2018 and reached #3 on the European Americana charts in August of 2018.
Carper is a two-time veteran of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, and Patek is a three-time winner of the Wisconsin State Fiddle Championship.
“[The Buffalo Gals] are able to write and perform in a way that is completely true to the real tradition of ‘country music’ . . . . This is real country music performed in a way the traditionalists of old would easily recognize, but this incredibly talented duo is ensuring the style is as relevant now as it would have been a hundred years ago with their subtle modernity and their own highly individual take.” ~ americanarootsuk.com
For more info and to buy stuff, go to: http://www.buffalogalsband.com/
Writer and Editor
Following years as a reporter and editor of a handful of weekly newspapers, Dale McCurry was co-founder and publisher, writer and managing editor of High Notes Magazine on the Western Slope of Colorado and The Wires and the Wood in his native Ozarks. Today, he wears all of those hats for NoteWorthy Music as well.
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