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As “The White Buffalo,” Jacob Smith’s life gets a lot more interesting

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"I was born Jacob Smith, which isn’t a very mystical name.” A tall, broad, bearded man, Smith got his White Buffalo nickname from a friend — in part because of his imposing physical stature.

“I wanted a stage name that was a little more interesting, and the White Buffalo thing just sort of came up,” he says. “I was completely unaware that it represented this kind of messianic figure for the Lakota Sioux. I’m definitely no messiah.”

The White Buffalo’s music has a lonely, forlorn quality to it, perhaps born of the many years of laborious, lonesome touring. His rangy, quavering voice exudes a vulnerability that is at odds with his physicality, but it matches well with his often dark, country-gothic lyrics. He’s been compared to Tom Waits and Eddie Vedder, and he is indeed a curious hybrid of those two icons. But he also has a little Gram Parsons in him — not to mention a little Conor Oberst. His music skirts the line between sun-baked L.A. country-rock and Midwestern singer-songwriter angst.

As the White Buffalo, Smith takes a wholly independent approach to his music. He used to do more than 100 tour dates each year, something he says he’s scaled back recently since he has a family at home in Los Angeles. Now he concentrates mostly on shows in his home state of California and weekend dates farther afield.

“I’m fully independent and always have been,” says Smith. “Everything is very grassroots and relies a lot on word of mouth. We do it all in-house.”

He means what he says. The White Buffalo’s two official recordings, a self-titled EP and last year’s full-length, Hogtied Revisited, were both self-released. And although he has worked with a manager in the past, he and his girlfriend handle all the details of touring, recording and marketing the music.

Smith’s been on the road lately and begins a spate of Pacific Northwest shows, with a stop this week in Spokane.

It appears that the White Buffalo is once again roaming.

The White Buffalo plays with Hey is for Horses and Joe Firstman at Empyrean on Friday, Jan. 29, at 7 pm. Tickets: $7. Call 838-9819.


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