I hope that it’s not too cynical that when I like a country act it’s usually an ironic or sardonic group who plays southern-fried honky-tonk music with its collective tongue planted firmly in its cheek. If that’s still defensible, this week’s installment of “Nobody Listens to This” brings you The Possum Posse, a string band from Austin that bills themselves as “The Greatest Band in the World. Possibly, Ever.” They live up to their claims.
The first time I heard The Possum Posse’s music I didn’t think they were a real band. Last fall a friend showed me a viral youtube video titled “Guy On a Buffalo“, a short ballad that seemed to narrate clips from some old movie about…a guy riding a buffalo. The clip was hilarious, melding outlandish string band twang with quick humor about the insanity playing out onscreen (in the first of four “Guy on a Buffalo” episodes, the Guy runs away from a bear and sneaks up on a Native American who is trying to shoot him). As I worked my way through the four episodes of “Guy on a Buffalo” I began wondering who might be behind these silly little videos, and sure enough the creators gave themselves a brief advertising spot at the end of one of the episodes. Evidently a country group by the name of The Possum Posse had taken it upon themselves to tell the story of the Guy on a Buffalo in ballad form.
According to their blog, the Posse was first rounded up in small-town Clyde, Texas in 2002. By 2008 the group had moved to Austin, and by 2010 had solidified their lineup to its present-day form. Billing themselves as “sardonic honky-tonk/bluegrass”, and specialize in mashing up “urban cult classic and girlie-pop favorites”. This is a fun band. A full-length album is still in the works, but the group released their first professionally recorded EP, What’s Goin’ On With Grandpa?, in early 2011. The four-track EP features exactly what the listener expects of The Possum Posse: honky-tonk goodness that ought to be taken seriously that’s been paired with subject matter and lyrics that shouldn’t.
With a classic string band sound and frankly hilarious lyrics delivered in a southern-fried twang, the Posse definitely has a gimmick as a goofy ironic country group that is equal parts ridiculous and hard-rocking. The EP What’s Goin’ On With Grandpa? runs from a lively up-tempo title track about a grandparent who may have recently found a new love interest, two tunes about unconventionally unrequited love (“Pocket Dial” and “Baptist Girls“), and an ode to an erstwhile 90s dance music CD in “LaBouche CD”. The songs range from slow ballads to quick-stepping Texas Blues, and each features multi-part harmonies from various group members and tasty electric guitar licks from the band’s 15-year-old (yes, seriously) lead guitarist in Jes Clifford (Jes’ father Marty is the group’s mandolin player).
The centerpiece of The Possum Posse’s work to date, however, is their “Guy On A Buffalo” series, which actually begins in the late 1970s with the release of Buffalo Rider. The 1978 film (which features its own ridiculous ballad for the titular character) follows the story of Buffalo Jones, a frontiersman who somewhat inexplicably rides a buffalo. Or, at least the film tries to follow Buffalo Jones’ tale. The movie is bizarre on multiple fronts with a plot driven almost entirely by voiceover narration, minimal dialogue, countless scenes of how-did-they-ethically-shoot-that animal fighting, and a 20-minute side story about a raccoon trapped on an ice floe. Because the film’s studio elected not to renew its copywright, the movie is now public domain and is available in its entirety on youtube.
Fast forward thirty years to 2011, when The Possum Posse took it upon themselves to tell the world about Buffalo Jones and his great adventures in the American West. In four two-minute-long videos the group was able to sum up just about the entire plot of the 90-minute film, and stage it to a musical narration that is just as descriptive as the narration and sparse dialogue in Buffalo Rider. All this is to say that The Possum Posse successfully deconstructed a full-length film and cut scenes and clips to original songs to tell the story in less than ten minutes. The “Guy On A Buffalo” songs are instant (youtube) classics, telling the story of the Guy over a catchy string band arrangement that makes a particular demographic of young Americans nostalgic for the Disney-fied westerns of our youth. And it’s sharply funny. From the songwriting approach that almost sounds as if the Posse is trying to narrate the film as they watch it to the group’s wails of “On A Buffalo!”, the songs are well-written and ingeniously clever. While The Possum Posse deserves a great deal more attention for their non-youtube-bound work, “Guy On A Buffalo” may be a brilliant ploy to draw listeners in with funny youtube songs set to shots of a hairy man riding around on a buffalo chasing down guys wearing cool hats.
From “Guy On A Buffalo” to What’s Goin’ On With Grandpa? and beyond, The Possum Posse are true purveyors of a brand of country music that really taps into hipster sensibilities and real music aficionados alike. The truth is that while the group’s music is intentionally silly and comedic in nature, the situations and emotions that spring up from the Posse’s original work are authentic; the self-effacing admittance that someone loved LaBouche in the 1990s and only gets phone calls from accidental dials is surprisingly relatable and earnest. Though the same can’t necessarily be said for the “Guy On A Buffalo” series or live covers of Miley Cyrus songs, the band has a real heart and a real message. They just convey it with a clever wink and a smile.
The Possum Posse can be tracked down on their official website and via twitter, and can frequently be found in hot, smoky bars across Texas. While the band is still unsigned and working their way up to a full-length album release, The Possum Posse is, for all intents and purposes, Old Crow Medicine Show for people who want to laugh at country music while they listen. Nobody is listening to The Possum Posse right now, but the brilliance of their “Guy On A Buffalo” videos and their exciting treatment of honky-tonk and string band music definitely deserves more attention.