Friday, February 06, 2004

Hey there thunderhead

I'm headed shortly to see the Richard Buckner show at Congress. I've been listening to Buckner for about five years and he never fails to impress. One of the best songwriters around these days, Buckner writes tales of people weary of travel, or life, and captures the down-and-out mentality as good as anyone. He's vague at times, veiled even. He's a storyteller, but the stories are loose, more grounded in emotion than narrative. They have holes - big, mysterious holes that lend more to the song's essence because they're there. Where Buckner drops off a tale is rarely where he picks it up again. And that divide is a powerful, evocative statement - and where his words are at their best. Comparisons to Townes Van Zandt are mostly appropriate, but I wouldn't put Buckner in the legends realm quite yet. His voice can both float and dig. In a way, he sounds similar to Jay Farrar, but his guitar work also stands out.
His earlier work leans toward folk for the most part, and Bloomed is absolutely stunning. If you were to spread out the mood of his records over the course of a day, Bloomed is the late afternoon. "Put your arms up dear and we'll keep the casket open," he sings on Surprise, Arizona, one of many standouts.
Devotion + Doubt could well be his top album. Recorded with Calexico's Joey Burns and John Convertino. They're not merely session players, their sound goes a long way in defining the album (and their work is as stunning as it is on Neko Case's Blacklisted). Late, late night. Too late for companionship with anything but your own thoughts.
On Since, Buckner makes a turn to more of a straight ahead rock sound, where some say he suffers and some say he excells. Regardless, it's probably the least "Buckner" of his proper albums (I'm not even going to touch The Hill, a curious and ill-advised tangent in an otherwise stellar catalogue). This was the first album of his I got, so tunes like "Jewelbomb" are near and dear ("Did you let your angel burn out, like a pipeload under a flame" - an odd, odd simile that sounds like it would fit in a Tom Robbins book). Since kinda strains my day analogy, but we'll call it the drunken energetic part of the night.
Impasse is mostly a return to form and if any of his albums approach happiness or contentment, it may be this one. It's not his best, not his worst. It may simply suffer the set-back of being a mid-career album that falls away, mostly unnoticed, simply because it doesn't strike familiar listeners as stunning or immediate as the first songs they hears. Relaxing midday, on a porch, with a slight breeze.