Word of the colorful musical recipe being cooked up by the eclectic band Donna the Buffalo has been spreading for more than two decades, attracting a herd of dedicated fans.
Thousands have flocked to their irresistible concoction of zydeco, folk, reggae, country, Cajun and rock. Tara Nevins is one of the cooks stirring the inimitable cauldron for the entirety of the band's career, providing her voice, songwriting and talents on the fiddle, guitar, accordion and even the washboard.
With rarely a break from touring and plans for a new album, Donna the Buffalo is far from extinction. Tara Nevins has no plans to abandon the herd, but she did set aside some time last year for work of a more personal nature. On May 3, Nevins will release her second solo album, "Wood and Stone," on Sugar Hill Records.
Despite her classical training and her Northern origins, Nevins developed an attraction to Appalachian music she found hard to ignore. After college graduation, she pursued traditional music full-time. By way of a love affair with zydeco while on trip to Mardi Gras, Nevins' music evolved into a unique fusion of roots styles.
For most of her career, Nevins has been a part of collective efforts, spending 10 years with The Heartbeats, an all-female, old-time Cajun string group, and 21 years in Donna the Buffalo. She released one self-produced solo album in 1999, "Mule to Ride," which showcased her fiddle playing, but left out her singing and songwriting. "Wood and Stone" is a very different venture.
Nevins' singing is prominently featured on "Wood and Stone," and 10 of the 13 songs are original pieces. Recorded in Levon Helm's Woodstock, N.Y., studio, the album is produced by Larry Campbell, who is well-known performing with Bob Dylan and producing Helm's Grammy-winners "Dirt Farmer" and "Electric Dirt."
The crossroad reached when Nevins' long-standing, untroubled marriage came to an abrupt end a few years ago would act as the catalyst for the most intimate project of her career.
"'Wood and Stone' is a personal expression of these emotional discoveries ... these relationships over the past few years that I lost and found," she said. "And in the process ... figuring out who I am ... who Tara Nevins is, because as much as I fell, I also gained my personal strength and independence back."
"Wood and Stone" is not emotionally-wrenching, rather it is a wise retrospective of the joys and sorrows of love. Nevins' writing isn't that of an angry divorcee, so don't expect the album to be a diatribe on men. Her writing is a reflection of experiences to which anyone can relate.
Much like Nevins' other work, "Wood and Stone" does not lack musical diversity. It has a traditional flavor for the most part, but Nevins excellently delves into a variety of areas, including gospel and pop. Nevins, of course, provides plenty of fiddle and accordion and finds a number of opportunities to marry the instruments. A superb example is "All I Ever Wanted."
Many of the songs have a country tinge, especially "You're Still Driving That Truck." Larry Campbell's exceptional steel guitar on the song shows his ability to insert additional instruments in all the right places.
"Wood and Stone" is strangely hypnotic at times, with its mesmerizing rhythms and Nevins' relaxed but commanding delivery. The beautifully dark "Tennessee River" and her cover of the jazz standard, "Stars Fell On Alabama," are entrancing and highlight Nivens' beautiful voice, an asset she doesn't show off nearly enough on other projects.
A number of guests are featured on "Wood and Stone." Levon Helm sat in on drums on two songs. Nevins' former group, The Heartbeats, sits in on a couple of songs, as well. Jim Lauderdale provides a pleasant vocal accompaniment on the ballad, "Snowbird," and Allison Moorer helps out on "The Wrong Side."
In her cover of Van Morrison's "Beauty of Days Gone By," Nivens couldn't have picked a more appropriate song to end "Wood and Stone." Regardless of the soured relationship that inspired the album, she ends it on a positive note. Nivens turned to her art in a time of trouble, and it resulted in a fine piece of work.
Tara Nevins is online at http://www.myspace.com/taranevins and http://www.donnathebuffalo.com.