It’s one thing to revive a genre and another to resuscitate a specific type of old-school song. But on “Another Man,” from his new self-titled debut, Buffalo Nichols has both goals in mind: to update the blues and the protest song in the 21st century.
Born in Houston but raised in Milwaukee, Carl “Buffalo” Nichols is a deft fingerpicker and slide guitarist and muted power singer. It’s no surprise that he wound up being signed by Fat Possum, the Mississippi-based indie label that first cemented its rep by recording older blues acts like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough — before releasing records by the Black Keys, Andrew Bird, and, in 2018, Soccer Mommy. Nichols is the first new blues act signed to the Fat Possum in over two decades, all part of his (and the label’s) quest to ensure the genre is alive and kicking.
Buffalo Nichols has any number of highlights, including the pained “Back on Top,” which showcases his vibrato-drenched slide guitar. But its emotional core is “Another Man.” Nichols has said the song was inspired by “Another Man Done Gone,” a Black spiritual mostly associated with the late Odetta, who sang it accompanied only by handclaps. Folksinger Vera Hall actually cut it first, in the Forties, and it’s since been recorded by Johnny Cash (who turned it into an eerie a cappella shout in 1963), Jorma Kaukonen (on his unplugged Quah solo album), and others.
In whatever version, “Another Man Done Gone” was never specific, merely lamenting “they killed another man.” In his update, Nichols completely rewrote the lyrics, remaking the song for the Black Lives Matter era. “Another woman is dead/Turn signal wasn’t on they locked her up and now she’s gone,” he sings, honoring Sandra Bland’s death. He then pulls back for the bigger picture: “No need to hide behind a white hood/When a badge works just as good.”
Given how piercing “Another Man” can be, Nichols has said he’s pulled it in and out of his set over the last few years. “The song feels too raw and too personal for me to share it with people sometimes,” he recently told Working Mojo. “But then I kind of remove myself from it, and just let the song exist on its own, and then it comes back.” Unfortunately, it’s a song — and sentiment — that continues to demand a revival of its own.