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Bill Janovitz
Up Here

Some of you may remember a little band called Buffalo Tom. Some of you may not. After more than 15 years, they are still in existence, and still making music that rocks the metaphorical socks off of your feet. But Bill Janovitz, lead singer for Buffalo Tom, decided that it was time to step back and record an album of quieter songs, just him and (mostly) an acoustic guitar. Unlike his more country sounding past solo effort (Lonesome Billy), this record has more of a sense of a peaceful soul, with a folky feel to the songs. Up Here is an album overflowing with sentiment and originality, but with a flavor unmistakably similar (albeit it much, much more subdued) to that of Buffalo Tom, minus the distortions and erstwhile noisiness. More focus is lent to the songs, rather than the beat and the immediate power, and so the songs become even more powerful in their sparse and beautiful arrangements.

She was cute in a drippy sort of wayÖOdd lyrics floating above a highly trembling organ line and a sensible solid acoustic guitar part highlight the opening track, "Atlantic". The mood for the album is set in the first few minutes, and Bill really warms up the vocal cords for what is to come. "Best Kept Secret" swings along on a trip of steel guitar moodiness, a soul lonely and drifting. "Up Here" is a dark song, full of intensity and emotional exploration. The stark combination of Billís voice and his acoustic guitar make for a pleasurably concentrated listen. Long time collaborator Chris Toppin joins in on harmony vocals on "Half A Heart", creating a beautifully earthy feeling to a beautifully well-orchestrated song. Piano accompanies the ever-present acoustic guitar, and fleshes out the arrangement with a nice solo. "Your Strangerís Face" waltzes its way right into the strings of your heart, much like a good old Willy Nelson song may have been able to do at one time before the IRS took over. With special lo-fi additives and some great harmony vocals, this song is a treasure to listen to. Maybe the most sympathetic song on the album, "Goodnight, Wherever You Are", makes the impression of (not so drunk) Tom Waits singing lullabies replete with sing-songy lyrical content.

"Minneapolis" is a John Cougar-like story of questing for what is lost and seemingly found. It is a profoundly intimate portrait of the girl in the story, and perhaps of our songwriter, as well. More of an American folk sound once again comes out on "Like You Do" and the lyrics are clever and simple, all at once, reaffirming that No one understands me like you do. A very nice Dylan-esque harmonica solo and slide guitar work makes this song a joy to listen to. "Like Shadows" reminds my ear of Jackopierce in their heyday, and some wonderful guitar tones really add a depth to the music, and render the story even more poignant. And like a man who has lost his faith, a fellow man who rues the day when love came down and carried him away. But not for me these callow truths, Iíve learned one thing from hollow youth, to hold on to the good things that Iíve gotÖ but please come back, my heart attacks me on my own. "Light In December" is a nice, lighter story of memories of youth and the lessons learned in those times. Ending the album on a bit more of an upbeat story, "Long Island" is laced with background vocals and delicate lyrical fragments. Once again invoking memories of places and loves lost and long gone, with a bittersweet guitar solo, this song packs more emotion than most songs ever heard on the radio anymore.

For fans of the Buffalo Tom legacy, or for folks more deeply involved in a love affair with excellent songs and fabulous presentation, this album is a must have. The songs are deep and beautiful, and the music is wonderfully soothing and provocative at the same instant. Bill Janovitz has here-in proven that he is not only capable of putting the r in rock, but also more than able to present the singer-songwriter aspects of his complex and intricate soul. Each song is a detailed portrait of some piece of the writer from varying times in his life. Billís notes in the liner are a wonderful personal way to see these songs in perhaps a different light than one would, were they just to listen to the songs; and perhaps better understand ourselves through his songs.

On my infamous alt-country scale of 1 to 10, 1 being much, much better than a Billy Ray Cyrus could ever dream of being, and 10, of course, being Johnny Cash, Bill Janovitz sits nicely in at about an 8.3.

Ė David DeVoe

Track Listing:

  1. Atlantic
  2. Best Kept Secret
  3. Up Here
  4. Half A Heart
  5. Your Strangerís Face
  6. Goodnight, Wherever You Are
  7. Minneapolis
  8. Like You Do
  9. Like Shadows
  10. Light In December
  11. Long Island

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