It was somewhere around 2008 when I first started hearing Jake Smith’s name. The towering, long-tressed singer, better known as The White Buffalo, had made his S.B. debut onstage at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, and folks couldn’t stop talking about it. The show was the first of many (many, many) Santa Barbara tour stops to come, but that night he planted the seed — and won over more than a few new fans in the process.
In the four years since that fateful evening, Smith has gifted us with two EPs and two full-lengths, the most recent of which, Once Upon a Time in the West, hit shelves earlier this year. He’s also cultivated a still-growing herd of followers, most of whom share a similar story and will tell you the same: See The White Buffalo live and you’ll never look back. Onstage and on record, Smith crafts songs that vacillate between the heartbreaking and the poetic. Some are fast-paced, countrified boot-stompers; others are tracks that meander, made up of acoustic guitars that build and retreat alongside their author’s rich and powerful voice. In either mode, though, Smith commands your attention with his mix of authoritative, gruff, and thought-provoking wordplay, calling to mind storytelling greats like Tom Waits.
“With songwriting, things can take such different turns, and it seems like so many people take the easy choice,” he recently told China Shop Mag. “There are only so many rhyming words that you can use, and it seems like a lot of songs that you hear on pop radio or country radio, a lot of it is very predictable; I know what they are going to say before they say it. … [I]t’s sort of stock stuff, and I try to never really have that. I try to write something that is original.”
But his talent runs deeper than simply avoiding the obvious. Smith’s songs are character-driven affairs that speak to the downtrodden and working class. In concert, he’s downright riveting, even as he evokes the feel of a whiskey-soaked troubadour from a forgotten time. And this Memorial Day weekend when he hits the stage at the Lobero Theatre for his biggest S.B. concert to date, you can expect the room to shake with the power of it all.
The White Buffalo plays the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) on Sunday, May 27, at 8 p.m. Call (805) 963-0761 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets and info