Morrison Hotel, Yankee Hotel, Hotel California––locales that give title to collections of music. Add to this list Buffalo Hotel, a 12-song full-length from singer-songwriter Geoff Gibbons. Each of the songs on the album represents a distinct story. The through line is Gibbons’ extrasensory capacity for defining characters, and the remarkable empathy that he shares in his portrayals.
Based in Vancouver, BC, Canada, Gibbons has decades of experience as a songwriter, musician, producer and engineer. He also creates songs and scores for television shows, animation and feature films, and he has performed on bills with Emmylou Harris, David Crosby and other artists.
The lyrics that annotate the songs of Buffalo Hotel are rich in metaphors and infused with conflict and contradictions. “Two sides of a story/Double edges of a sword,” as Gibbons sings in “The Other Side.” While the weathered hotel remains stationary, the characters are transitory: From the hitchhiker in “Ain’t Goin’ Back” to the unemployed traveler who is “Carolina Bound.” On “Me and Buffalo Bill,” the protagonist promises, “We’ve got some ghosts to kill,” a deft paradox; ending the existence of forces already dead.
As revealed on Buffalo Hotel, Gibbons is a soulful vocalist. “I was a singer from a young age,” he explains. “My mum plopped me on the stage with the BC (British Columbia) Boys Choir when I was nine, and I became the soloist after a year. We toured Europe, and I was making records at 10. I can remember being scared shitless, as I was shoved out in front of a thousand people in Rotterdam, Holland.”
He also remembers his reaction to the synthesis of rock and country as originated by Gram Parsons, the Byrds and other Southern California creators. “I was smitten by California country when I was a teenager. I couldn’t get enough long-haired guys playing country-infused music with a pedal steel guitar player.”
Having recorded a string of releases, Gibbons notes that Buffalo Hotel is a deeply personal project. It originated with a trip through the American south as Geoff and two friends visited Muscle Shoals and Nashville, and traveled to Memphis where they visited the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was shot. This immersion in history was intoxicating and inspiring. “To spend time in the belly of modern music was overwhelming,” Gibbons says. “It was like going to Mecca.”
The soul influences are evidenced on Buffalo Hotel as Gibbons vocals are elevated by the backing harmonies of the Sojourners, a trio of vocalists with old-school gospel sanctification. “They help solidify that Memphis vibe we were going through,” Gibbons notes.
In performance, Gibbons can present the songs solo. “I’m comfortable sitting with the acoustic and blasting them out, with a percussive style on the guitar. It also sounds good with a bass player. The songs have to move on their own. When I’m singing a song I’m telling a story, and I don’t need a lot of instrumentation on top of it. I think the story comes from the delivery, and the delivery needs to come from the humanity.”
The opening track on the project titled, “Ain’t Goin’ Back,” sets the stage. Over layered acoustic guitars, a lyrical lead and a whistling pedal steel, the narrator ruminates on the still warm ashes of a love affair through a lens of cinematic clarity. “The wheels thunder by me on this highway/Yeah this rain is a demon.” Says Gibbons, “That song always gives me a picture coming back. I almost feel like a third person, and not the artist. I listen to it from an objective view. It allows me to go to the place that I was in when I wrote the song, but it always gets colored a little differently.”
While Buffalo Hotel represents a milestone in the career of Geoff Gibbons, it also stands as homage to the music that came before, the era when rock and country met at a fabled crossroads. “Those are the guys who shaped what drives me as an artist,” says Gibbons. “This is why this record is so important to me. This is my fifth album, but it comes around and represents what my real true love is.”