Buffalo Tom – Besides

Buffalo Tom – Besides

Whilst 2000’s Asides collection documented the most rocking and best remembered highlights from Buffalo Tom’s six studio albums to date, this sibling set of flipsides and obscurities shows a different side to Boston’s most enduring power-rock-trio. It represents a looser, more experimental edge to their oeuvre. Which is, of course, a typical trait of many rock groups’ off-cuts – even when it comes to the wretched likes of Oasis. And as every hardy Buffalo Tom fan should know, the band can be stubbornly straight-laced in the choice of their own mainstream album and A-sides material. There’s always been too much of an obsession with cementing a ‘classic-rock’ character – a frustrating facet of a band that has otherwise been impeccable in making the ordinary feel extra-ordinary. So it’s fortunate that this 18-track rarities retrospective helps to reveal the hidden depths and dimensions of the Buffalo Tom back catalogue.

A scattered smattering of covers betray the band’s influences in a lopsided but amenable fashion. Some work brilliantly; notably an off-the-cuff live acoustic rendition of the early Stones’ scorcher “The Spider And The Fly,” a psyched-out sprawl through the Velvets’ “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and a brutally bashed-up live bawl through George Harrison’s “Wah-Wah.”

Another revelation on Besides is that bassist Chris Colburn’s songs are horribly misrepresented on the band’s regular releases. Usually restricted to two or three lead vocals to Bill Janovitz’s seven or eight average per album, Chris’ songs normally slip into saccharine and cloying tweeness. Yet his cuts culled here are some of the most forceful and fulsome in his and indeed the group’s repertoire. Ranging from brightly-lit power-pop (“Witches”) to ambling acoustic balladry (“Butterscotch”) through to sweet shambling piano-driven playfulness (“Bumble Bee”).

But of course the band really does belong to Bill Janovitz’s passionate weathered larynx that perfectly embodies Buffalo Tom’s rugged romanticism. And it’s doubly potent here when the band strips back the heavy guitars. The previously unheard “Anchors Aweigh” shows how well the trio can adapt to astonishingly lovely atmospherics when they turn down the noise and “The Way Back” contradicts Bill Janovitz’s well-documented belief that an all-acoustic Buffalo Tom album wouldn’t work.

With all this talk of diversity put aside, there’s still room for some trademark trailblazing Tom numbers with Bill at the helm of his flotilla of guitars. So tuck into “Never Noticed” for meaty no nonsense indie-rock and “For All To See” for the band’s blend of melodic Hüsker Dü hardcore pop layered with electric and acoustic guitars.

Naturally, Besides has a few false-starters and a selection of stillborn ideas, and purists will no doubt besmirch the absence of additional oddities. However, as rarities compendiums go Besides is a remarkably comprehensive release that will warrant almost as much listening as a regular Buffalo Tom album. Moreover, it shows several avenues that the group could further explore should their self-imposed hiatus through solo records, nappies and proper jobs ever come to an end. Here’s hoping.