In the rearview mirror of time, and rock ?n? roll, the image of Buffalo Tom was just a speck.
The rootsy '90s alternative rockers hadn?t released a studio album since 1998?s Smitten, and, except for the odd live show, not much had been heard from them since then.
The band ended its silence on July 10, when Buffalo Tom released Three Easy Pieces, a strong collection of straightforward, ballsy, Americana-flavored rockers and yearning ballads that begs the question: Where have you been all these years?
?For us, it wasn?t an all-of-a-sudden decision, [to make the record]? says bassist/vocalist Chris Colbourn. ?Billy (Janovitz, the band?s guitarist and vocalist) and I are from the same little hometown outside of Boston called Medfield, and we?ve playing music since 1984 together. So, there was never like a break, there was never a point when we said, ?Okay, we?re going to stop now.??
Life kept getting in the way of the band?s recording plans.
?The truth is, after our last studio album, we toured with a couple of compilation things, but there were also six children born in the middle of all that, and we just moved into a house, and we?d been touring for so long ... ? explains Colbourn. ?It wasn?t really this dramatic reunion, because we really started to work on a record in the middle of all that.?
A long time in the making, Three Easy Pieces was released on New West Records? subsidiary, Ammal Records. The label was created by Danny Goldberg, a stalwart champion of the group who once worked at Atlantic Records.
?We?ve been trying to get this record out for years,? says Colbourn. ?But it was slowly moving along. And then we realized we had to get a new label. We?ve had one label (Beggar?s Banquet) our whole career, and that contract was over, so we were going to send some music to that label, but we also thought it was time to get a fresh start, and when Goldberg heard these tapes, he was really psyched.?
It was another lucky break for a band that feels it?s been blessed to carve out a musical career for itself.
?We started just before a lot of alternative-rock music got big, and we were really at the right place at the right time when we started,? says Colbourn, who joked, ?That, with a lot of payola, can really pay off.?
Had money actually exchanged hands with modern-rock radio DJs, ?Taillights Fade,? Buffalo Tom?s lovely, heart-wrenching song of dying love, might have made more of a ripple in the charts. The same could be said for the radio-friendly ?Soda Jerk,? off 1993?s Big Red Letter Day.
Neither song took off commercially, although ?Soda Jerk? did land the band some radio and MTV airplay.
But when it seemed like platinum records weren?t in the cards for Buffalo Tom, the band reverted back to its old self on 1995?s Sleepy Eyed, a more ragged, live-sounding record.
This was the Buffalo Tom that had emerged from its noisy debut, produced by J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., to gut its sound for 1990?s Birdbrain, and become more of an everyman rock band.
All along the way, with each record, Buffalo Tom?s songwriting improved by leaps and bounds.
And Three Easy Pieces might just be the band?s finest hour. In spirit and sonic artistry, the Buffalo Tom of 2007 closely resembles the freewheeling group that made Let Me Come Over and Sleepy Eyed.
It helped that the band decided to clean out leftover, unfinished songs from its bulging closet of unused material and started over.
?One of the things that we started to do once we started to write was kind of throw away the things that had been collecting for years ? the old songs,? says Colbourn. ?I remember reading about Tattoo You that that was actually a lot of songs from Goat?s Head Soup and a compilation of old songs that the Stones had gotten togethe