Mad Buffalo
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Mad Buffalo


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"The Land Remembers ..."

You know a record's got something going for it when it has two cuts with James Burton on guitar, and it doesn't even need him to be compelling. Wilderness springs from the environmentally conscious, musically rich interior landscape that defines the singular voice and viewpoint of Randy Riviere (pronounced Ri-veer), whose interesting wanderings have found him occupying a variety of blue collar jobs, serving a stint in the U.S. Army, undertaking an education that's earned him a master's degree in wildlife biology, toiling in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, leading an effort to preserve more than 40,000 acres as permanent wildlife conservation easements and earning awards for his environmental efforts. This in part helps explain why the intriguing songs on the aptly titled Wilderness bear such a strong sense of place, a connection to the physical geography of the land and the psychological contours of a restless soul in pursuit of some degree of grace and definition.

"In the nasally rumble of his voice on the first few tracks here Riviere sounds like he might be blood kin to Tony Gilkyson, and his songs have the same restless thrust as Gilkyson's best work; but as the disc unfolds, Riviere's timbre softens and lightens into an airy, eerie near-falsetto replicant of the young Neil Young's voice. Some may find this unnerving, or derivative, but settle in and it all makes sense, sounds right, and wholly Riviere's. The song titles underscore the importance of location in Riviere's work-'Ohio,' 'Old Kentucky,' 'Alkali/Cold Harbor,' 'This World,' 'Angry Town,' 'Three Rivers,' 'Rainy Day,' even 'Destination Unknown' and its implied journey. The music informing these numbers is itself a kind of map-the energetic rockabilly shadings and propulsive, insistent rhythm of 'Destination Unknown' (and Burton's chiming, exuberant guitar solo) as the narrator wends his way from the Carolinas to Missouri to Wyoming and beyond; the sparkling, Allmans/Marshall Tucker-like cascading twin guitar lines erupting in 'Ohio,' a tense, grinding summons to explore some unsavory history buried by time and blood; the languid, old-timey fiddle-accordion-banjo-mandolin ensemble of 'Old Kentucky,' which turns out to be one man's apology offered to the land he plundered for his own riches at the moment he realizes the land, not he, will prevail--'there's cards on the table/and a shell of a man/but these hills of Kentucky stand'; in 'Alkali/Cold Harbor,' the mournful pedal steel, stark, deliberately plucked banjo and ominous wash of organ chords filling up the track as Riviere, singing in an odd, detached voice, as if he's looking back on horrors from a psychological dead zone, recalls the desperate straits in which he found himself, apparently during the Civil War, when his only aim was 'to stay alive' and get back to the solitude of his Tennessee mountain home. You get the idea. Wilderness ranges across time and space with impunity, seemingly coming out of antiquity at one moment, at another firmly rooted in modern times, and occasionally daring to occupy a phantom zone of past and present in the same breath.

"By the end of this record you won't be thinking about Riviere sounding like Neil Young; you'll be wondering what hit you. The music being not only well played but emotionally charged adds grandeur to Riviere's vivid tales--here's a big tip of the hat to Riviere, his brother Bobby and Michael Ward for the electrifying guitar work, to James Pennebaker for making the lap and pedal steels sing so affectingly, and especially to the master of the harmonica, Mickey Raphael, who is nothing short of amazing, adding the most scintillating atmospherics to the tracks, whether in the shimmering cries of the winsome 'All I Really Want' or in the banshee blues wails punctuating the acerbic, angry thump of 'Pretty Boy,' which may be a thinly veiled indictment of the Bush administration, a notion that gains credence when the song suddenly breaks into an energetic trot in the last verse as Riviere sings, 'Hello little girls and little boys/Did you see the news or hear the noise?/Daddy's not coming home the same old way/Didn't you see the news today?'--after which interlude the music explodes into a white-hot fusillade of searing guitar, wailing harmonica and thundering drums fueling Riviere's howls of 'Don't tell me it's alright/don't tell me it's alright.' It's not, and we won't, but we will mark that you moved through here and made sure we took notice. The good earth will remember, too."
- David McGee, - Sept. 10, 2008
- David McGee, - Sept. 10, 2008

"Wilderness is the album to bring them out of the woods ..."

"It's somehow fitting that the opening song on Mad Buffalo's new album is titled "Ohio," though it has nothing to do with Neil Young's 1970 classic single. But Mad Buffalo's Randy Riviere is someone clearly in debt to Young's yearning sound, and uses those influences to create his own considerable contribution to new music. It's also not a surprise Rivere's sound is so connected to the earth. It seems to rise right up from the land in strong doses of elemental influences, no doubt because for many years, Randy Riviere worked doing conservation for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and his own company, receiving multiple awards for his environmental endeavors. On the third Mad Buffalo album, the singer-songwriter has found an ultimate spark, one that comes from the belief so much of life is in the discovery ahead. Songs like "Destination Unknown" portray the band as adventurers ready for anything, and even if they play in styles well known to lovers of American music, there is always the sense it's what's around the bend that interests them most. The band enlists guests like producer Marty Grebb, James Burton, Mickey Raphael and James Pennebaker to add their individual touches to the songs, which takes an already talented band to the next level. More than their uptempo music, Mad Buffalo really excels at the moody apocalyptical feeling on "Let's Get On with It," "Angry Town" and several others. There is a disarming hint of dread that can't be denied. Maybe it's Riviere's many years battling the forces of destruction by modern developers over nature, but it's something that can't be missed and adds to his band's mission. For sheer beauty, though, the unbeatable winner on the album is "All I Really Want." Neil Young's spirit is hovering straight above the song, along with the hope that somehow the best of our past is right there with him. Like The Band, Crazy Horse and a few other groups before them, Mad Buffalo expresses a deep love for both history and the future, promising as much as they deliver. Wilderness is the album to bring them out of the woods."
- Bentley's Bandstand, -September 22, 2008

- - Bentley's Bandstand, -September 22, 2008

"Music to remind us of who we are and where we come from ..."

"Wilderness is the third release from Randy Riviere, also known as Mad Buffalo. Randy creates music that reflects his meaningful, spirited efforts as a wildlife biologist who has acquired multiple awards for work in conservation and environmental issues. The album's lyrical content involves thought provoking and inspiring accounts of the American wilderness and of the commonplace folk who thrive in it, both past and present. Like Neil Young, Gram Parsons, and Steve Earle before him, Riviere is an old school composer and musician suitable to the folk-rock groove of performers who sing of practical and earthy American ideals. It's roots music to remind us of who we are and where we come from.

"Riviere has garnered respect and notoriety throughout the music industry. It's an aspect that's blatantly noticeable in the list of performers playing alongside him on Wilderness. Hall of Fame guitarist James Burton, harmonica player Mickey Raphael (the Willie Nelson Band), Producer Marty Grebb on multiple instruments, and James Pennebaker on steel guitar are a mere few musicians who added their talents to the album's twelve tracks.

"Though Riviere's voice has a sound of its own, one that's somewhat relaxed in a baritone register, it's interesting that a Neil Young ambiance is perceived quite often, even though his range is opposite of Young's falsetto/tenor. The exception to this 'closeness in sound yet difference in range' feature is the song "All I Really Want," in which his range actually sounds in close proximity to Young's at times. The Neil Young similarity is perceivable throughout the album, but it's merely a bonus, and by no means challenges the individualism of Riviere. Though his style often reflects timeless influences of past folk and rock greats, he's an extremely distinctive and genuine artist in his own right."
- Brian D. Holland, - October 27, 2008

- - Brian D. Holland,

"Raw roots rock from those that like their lyrics real ..."

"... compelling stories from a guy who's been there and done that ... raw roots rock from those that like their lyrics real."
- Planet Weekly, Tuscaloosa AL

- Planet Weekly, Tuscaloosa AL - Oct. 9, 2008

"The real music of the heartland and its people ..."

"A long time player that has finally made music his priority rounds up cats like Marty Grebb, Mickey Raphael and James Burton to give his latest the proper kick in the pants. C'mon, these guys really don't need to get out of bed for a paycheck. As blue collar as it gets, this is the real music of the heartland and its people. As real as it gets from top to bottom, this is the kind of left field date that grows on you instantly and really opens your ears to a new raft of possibilities."
- Chris Spector, Midwest Record - Chicago, IL - Sept. 10, 2008

- Chris Spector, Midwest Record - Chicago, IL - Sept. 10, 2008

"Blue-collar honest and steel-guitar stirring"

"Blue-collar honest and steel-guitar stirring, this passionate group is helmed by Randy Riviere with guest guitarist and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer James Burton, singing the praises of 'Ohio' and 'Old Kentucky.'"
- John James, LEO Weekly, Louisville, KY - Sept. 10, 2008 - John James, LEO Weekly, Louisville, KY - Sept. 10, 2008

"Try listening to Wilderness just once ... it didn't work for me either ..."

"...My definition of an exceptionally rewarding album is one that keeps me coming back. I dare you: Try listening to Wilderness just once. No, it didn't work for me either."
-Jerome Clark - Rambles.NET 11-15-08 - Jerome Clark - Rambles.NET 11-15-08

"Land of opportunity ..."

Mad Buffalo's Randy Riviere has the Wilderness on his mind

It's easy to understand why Randy Riviere's music often has a landscape setting.

The roots-rock singer/songwriter/guitarist who records under the name Mad Buffalo has a master's degree in wildlife biology, and his nonmusic career includes contributing to the preservation of 40,000-plus acres as permanent wildlife conservation easements for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"[The landscape] is a very natural theme for me," says Riviere, who splits his time between Montana and Washington. "It is always on my mind, but actually, I spend quite a bit of effort trying to diffuse it. I don't want to bore everybody with my issues and do try hard to produce a diverse album with a variety of subject matter and melodies.”

Mad Buffalo's latest album is the self-released Wilderness, which follows 2004's A Good Bad Road and 2006's Fool Stand. On Wilderness, Riviere says he enjoyed exploring his country side in depth, and the experience reminded him of his days growing up on a small farm in Northern California.

Wilderness producer Marty Grebb brought in guitar legend James Burton to play on the songs "Little Walk" and "Destination Unknown." Riviere knows all about Burton's extensive resume, and he's quick to point out the man known for his "chicken picking" style spent a number of years playing with John Denver.

Speaking of Denver, Riviere realized not long after Denver's death how much the "Rocky Mountain High" singer influenced him as a junior high school student.

"The whole image, I guess – music, the mountains, the hiking boots, all of it – seemed very cool to me at the time, and I’m now convinced he did influence my feelings for the landscape, music and my career choices later on," Riviere explains.

"I had the pleasure of being able to tell this story to Burton, and I think he appreciated it very much. He said that Denver was one of the nicest folks he ever worked with."

-- By Chris M. Junior

- Chris M. Junior


A Good Bad Road - Album
Fool Stand - Album
Wilderness - Album - now getting airplay across US and in Europe



Artists sing or write about life. Most work from their imaginations. Only a few draw from having actually lived the episodes described through their music.

Of that small number, Randy Riviere (pronounced “Ri-VEER”), who records under the name Mad Buffalo, stands almost alone by virtue of what he has experienced and accomplished, how he connects it all to the flow of American culture and history, and how he ties it together through the poetry of his lyric and the emotion of his performance.

Wilderness, the latest of three Mad Buffalo albums, transcends the standards Riviere set with his previous releases, A Good Bad Road and Fool Stand. Those who have followed him through these past five-odd years will see in Wilderness the qualities that drew them to those works, especially in how his music seems to emerge from some place deep in our collective DNA.

What’s different on Wilderness is its depth, its sense of all the parts of Riviere’s story coming together as a unified statement about who we are, how we’ve come to where we stand together and sometimes in isolation, where the roads that began in that place honored by its title are leading, and what choices we might make for ourselves in years to come.

This is because Riviere himself has passed the milestone that he’s seen for years, always somewhere far ahead but only now put behind him. Up until recently, music has been only one part of his life. He’s played it since his high school years north of Sacramento, in garage bands that foreshadowed his integration of the sound and spirit of Johnny Cash, the Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd and especially Neil Young into a unique and personal fabric.

But for years, other things demanded his attention: service in the U.S. Army, blue-collar gigs that included working a drill rig and driving a long-haul truck route, and being inspired by his contact with the land to return to school, earn a master’s degree in wildlife biology, spearhead the preservation of more than 40,000 acres as permanent wildlife conservation easements working for the government in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the head of his own company, receive multiple awards for his environmental efforts …

There is much more as well, but for our purposes the key point is that Riviere’s love for music, though moved to a back burner, never ceased to simmer. Only when the time was right did he raise the temperature, pour all the ingredients of his adventures into the pot, and shift his attention to his most enduring passion.

“Music is now what I do exclusively,” he says. “My business was about working with big landowners and doing conservation easements on their land, and now that’s done. The restoration projects I was doing are done. I can finally focus on my music above all else. That feels good.”

And it sounds even better. Produced by Marty Grebb, Wilderness weaves 12 tracks into a vivid tapestry. Each song speaks eloquently on its own, its message elevated by musicians such as Grebb on multiple instruments, steel guitarist James Pennebaker, harmonica virtuoso Mickey Raphael and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member James Burton guesting on guitar. Each player knows how to connect with and release the soul of a great song; no better example of their artistry exists than on Wilderness.

As different as each song is, they share themes, the most obvious being a fascination with being on the move. On “Rainy Day,” we eavesdrop on a customer at a diner, beckoning a waitress to leave with him on his bike in search of something beyond her sad routine. On “All I Really Want,” we meet a fisherman at the end of a long voyage, wanting nothing more than to return to his family and recover “what we really had,” though the fatalism he brings back from the sea casts doubt on whether he can attain his dream. “Angry Town” evokes somewhere left behind more in shadow than light through cryptic mention of two unread letters – yet this is all Riviere needs to convey the essences of regret and heartbreak.

The sense of journey amplifies through mention of places and events that have special resonance. A family leaves the Carolinas to “head for Ohio on the Wilderness Road” and far beyond, on “Destination Unknown.” The first apprehensions of a cause already lost haunt the thoughts of a Southern soldier near the end of the Civil War on “Alkali/Cold Harbor.” A more optimistic veteran of that conflict rushes Westward, drawn by visions of open land and a girl who forecasts of “all we can do under these blue mountain skies” on “Three Rivers.”

“The landscape is my metaphor,” Riviere explains. “This land, this world, is real and it’s breathing. That’s why, to me, this album is a lot like coming home. It takes me back to when I was a kid, living with my family in the country. It’s really where I want to be now. It’s where I learned to really appreciate wildlife and the landscape they depend on, and this is also where I began my musical journey.”