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Buffalo Nichols turns battling isolation into something beautiful

Milwaukee-raised Buffalo Nichols isn’t an artist you put in a box. His link to the blues is undeniable, but slapping that label on everything he does is reductive. Nichols strikes me as a musician who’s more interested in doing something that sounds the best vs. something that fits him the best.

New single “Friends” is an emotional trip outside those comfort zones. Nichols’ deft guitarwork and inviting vocals are there as usual. But having TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone produce the track introduced a whole new set of strengths that turned a reject into a gem.

“‘Friends’ was written at the same time as the songs that made up my debut album,” Nichols told Rolling Stone. “After it didn’t make the album, I considered abandoning it and moving on, but I received such a strong response from audiences when playing this song, I felt that I owed it to them to finally release it.”

The track’s brief cosmic intro seems to have Malone’s fingerprints before Nichols’ fingerpicking grounds things to match the very human subject matter.

I wrote down every evil thing I did
And it’s longer than the list than the reasons I should live
Then a voice from somewhere says, “You’re good enough”
And suddenly the mean old world don’t seem so rough

It wasn’t easy to pick a section of lyrics that lets you know what you’re in for because this song covers a lot of the really messed-up experience of being a person — sadness, hope, connection, loneliness. It doesn’t try to be simple, and neither does the instrumentation, which includes a string section that makes already-emotional subject matter downright moving.

I feel like I should point out that this is not a total downer of a track. Still, a tissue or two nearby might not be a bad idea.