BUFFALO TOM Big Red Letter Day (Beggars Banquet)

Buffalo Tom are an American band, not unlike the Lemonheads or Dinosaur Jr. (whose J Mascis produced their first two albums). "Big Red Letter Day" is their fourth album, and the follow up to last years wondrous "Let Me Come Over". Initial listenings suggest that it won't surpass the quality quotient of its illustrious predecessor, but there's still very little cause for complaint.

The opener, and single, "Sodajerk", is one of the less distinguished songs, which, like about half of the album, is a relatively fast-paced but uninspiring dense guitar workout, leaving the lyrics trailing vaguely in the distance. Which is a shame, because the second track, "I'm Allowed", an epic in the same vein as "Let Me Come Over"'s "Taillights Fade", shows how good the lyrics actually are, and the slower pace enables the exquisite melody to be properly appreciated. Other gems include "Would Not Be Denied", the off-beat descending guitar patterns of "Dry Land" and "Late At Night", another slowie which is quite reminiscent of Syd Barrett's "Late Night".

"Big Red Letter Day" isn't an immediate album: it takes time, and listening, to appreciate the care and attention that's gone into the grooves (Buffalo Tom are fully paid-up vinyl fans, incidentally, and the album was recorded using vintage valve equipment). It's a slight disappointment that the album seems consciously crafted, rather than the product of flights of random melodic brilliance, but it's still pretty good. Long may they roam.

BUFFALO TOM/BETTIE SERVEERT Main Debating Hall, Manchester University 8/12/93

Does any debating actually get done in the Main Debating Hall? It's usually too noisy to hear yourself speak whenever I'm there...

Tonight began with a roadie walking onstage and apologising for the fact that The Verlaines, tonight's scheduled support act, weren't here. When the roadie was joined by three others, who then picked up sticks and guitars, it occurred to us that they were actually the support band. Bettie Serveert are like that - so unassuming they act like they're part of the furniture, but far more interesting to listen to than your average sofa. Musically they're a bit like the despised Juliana Hatfield Three (the female vocalist is a giveaway), but with far better songs. Technical problems meant that one of the guitarists spent much of the final song trying to fix his amp, only eventually playing for the last four bars...when he apologised he got a standing ovation. Despite stamping for an encore we didn't get one, but I have a suspicion that Bettie Serveert album sales in the north-west rose sharply the next day.

The Buffalo Toms, as Bettie Serveert called them, were equally unassuming, firmly of the "get on and play" pretension-free school of stagecraft. And that they did, including much of the new and not bad "Big Red Letter Day", and a fair proportion of "Let Me Come Over" as well. They were very competent, but not incredible...they don't really seem to recognise the quality of their own material. Take "Taillights Fade" for example, an absolute hearstopper of a song, up there with, for sake of argument, TFC's "Everything Flows". Instead of milking this one for maximum effect, the Tom were content to play a note-perfect rendition of the album version...fine, but a mild disappointment. Playing the similarly wondrous, and worryingly similar, "I'm Allowed" two songs earlier didn't assist matters, either.

They need to develop their live act, unfortunately...or maybe I've just been spoiled recently. With such a canon of excellent songs behind them, there's no reason Buffalo Tom can't be an all-conquering live act like the Lemonheads or Teenage Fanclub. Perhaps it's not in their polite nature.

BUFFALO TOM Sleepy Eyed (Beggars Banquet)

Pity poor Buffalo Tom: this Boston trio made one of the 90’s most achingly epic singles in "Taillights Fade" - "You don’t know whether to mosh or cry", commented one hack. The accompanying album "Let Me Come Over" had its moments too, but ever since they seem to have been navigating in ever decreasing circles, firstly with the not overly-exciting "Big Red Letter Day" album and now this. It’s all very comforting, restrained and polite, with hints of a sedated late period Hüsker Dü here or a presentable Dinosaur Jr there, smothered with plaid and giant redwood, but ultimately, for all the passion and commitment evident, uninvolving. "It’s just a little haiku/To say how much I like you" hollers Bill Janovitz on the opening track. Like, well alright, but love, no.