New Buffalo is a one-woman show also known as Australian singer-songwriter Sally Seltmann. A bit of a chanteuse, she claims both Billie Holiday and Marilyn Monroe as influences. And there is something theatrical about her sound. Her first full-length CD “The Last Beautiful Day” is full of songs about love and friendship and runs the gamut from sad songs about love lost, like “Come Back” to celebrations of friendship like “I’ve Got You and You’ve Got Me.”
It’s not surprising to learn that Seltmann briefly worked with Björk’s producer, Jeremy Davis, before striking out on her own. Like Björk, she uses a pastiche of percussion and sound samples — snippets of orchestration and horns, handclaps, and even some percussion that is reminiscent of the mechanical sound Björk sometimes employs. The samples are seamlessly knit together with live playing. Her voice isn’t pitch perfect, but the off-key moments are tinged with emotion that makes the songs feel that much more intimate and real. She doesn’t do the whispery thing that a lot of female singers tend to lean on, instead she just uses what she’s got — using samples to layer vocals on top of each other.
Her buddy Beth Orton even lends a hand on the track “Inside.” And Dirty Three’s Jim White adds his drumming skills to three tracks on the album.
Seltmann learned to play piano at age 10 and then taught herself guitar. She’s definitely a do-it-yourself type. After abandoning her work with Davis, she decided to set out on her own and produced the album in a studio in her Melbourne home with a little help from husband Darren Seltmann of The Avalanches. She took just eight months to write the album and played all the instruments. Overachiever alert.
“It’s a new day,” Seltmann sings on the album opener, “Recovery.” A lot of her songs are about seeing the good around you, which is strangely refreshing when you’ve listened to as many gloomy and doomy CDs as I have. Some of the cover art alone … but that’s another story. On “It’ll Be Alright,” she sings “But your eyes, never seem to open / There's a whole world outside / See I'm trying to tell you / It'll be alright.” I know I’ve had some friends who would have loved to sing this to me in some of my more “Hey I’m having a pity party” moments.
This is not to say that she doesn’t have her more somber moments. “Come Back” is a song that will break your heart. But what’s different is that it’s the person singing it who has done the wrong. “It's true, it's true / I've been avoiding you,” she sings, “When all you gave to me / Was so pure and so complete.” It’s rare to hear a song that has a sense of culpability. She breaks stereotypes of what women write love songs about, which is pretty cool and anti-victim. Seltmann has no need of Dr. Phil or books like “He’s Just Not That Into You,” which is empowering and refreshing. She’s not indicting anyone on this album — she’s just living.
For more information on New Buffalo, visit: http://www.newbuffalo.net/.