Named either for a town with which it would seem to have little to do musically but from which they hailed at one point or another, or an animal with which it shares many commonalities, Buffalo is the second full-length from The Midnight Ghost Train. Recorded just days after the Topeka, Kansas, trio got off the road from their 2011 tour with Truckfighters (see here and here) – and mostly recorded live, from the sound of it – Buffalo (released on Karate Body Records) is a half-hour set that commences almost immediately with zero-bullshit American-style stoner blues rock and offers little let-up for the duration. Their 2009 self-titled (review here) was a stylistic jaunt into such territories, and boasted several guest appearances from friends of the band, but Buffalo is more straightforward and outclasses its predecessor on every level in much the same way that album was a step up from earlier 2009’s The Johnny Boy EP (review here). Fronted by gruff-throated guitarist/vocalist Steve Moss, the mission behind Buffalo was clearly to bring the energy and flow of the band’s live set to a recording, and aided by the production of David Barbe (Bob Mould, Drive-by Truckers), they come about as close as one imagines being able to; tracks flow one into the next with ultra-natural smoothness, and there are moments in the album’s core midsection where it seems like Moss, bassist David Kimmell and drummer Brandon Burghart are going to lose control of the jams entirely and the whole record is going to come to a halt, but of course that never happens and The Midnight Ghost Train, however wild or tonally entrenched they might become, never actually lose control here when they don’t want to do so. Buffalo’s eight tracks are memorable individually, but work best taken as a whole – which of course is easy given the fact that the album is only a half-hour long – where the ebbs and flows and Moss’ bluesy growling can be carried across with the full complement of the next shifts about to come.
At their core, The Midnight Ghost Train are a stoner rock band. It’s Moss’ riffing leading the way with thick, rich, gloriously fuzzy tone for the heavy blues rhythms of Kimmell and Burghart, who hold their own behind him even at his most frantic. Vocally, Moss takes on a raving blues persona. Like he’s the one who most took Neil Fallon’s vocals on “I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth” to heart. His delivery is likewise gruff as “Henry” takes hold following upbeat instrumental opener “A Passing Moment of Madness,” which introduces the band’s penchant for riff-fronted grooves and foreshadows instrumental focus to come. Maybe it’s a style derived from heavier roots, but Moss plays it all bluesy on “Henry,” and his solos are likewise unbridled. Most importantly, he’s well mixed, so as not to be completely dominant or out in front of the guitars, bass and drums when it’s so obviously supposed to be the whole song that’s the focus and not one individual or another. Still, he’s striking as he drives home the rolling groove of “Foxhole,” with Burghart adding tom flourishes behind, and is obviously going to be a central presence throughout Buffalo. The reason it’s not out of balance is because, as I said, he’s well mixed, and also because Kimmell’s bass gives a formidable showing of its own, not to mention Burghart’s deft and varied drumming. I know Moss has been through several lineups of the band at this point, but they sound better here than they ever have, and having seen some of these songs live, “Foxhole” among them, I think they came as close as they could have to honing in on that live feel without actually having Moss walk in the room and start yelling at you.