Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Richard Buckner reissues

Richard Buckner is among the many musicians to have earned honorary Tucsonan status by hiding out here - under circumstances good, bad, extraordinary or unspeakable - and letting the desert calm sink in. This is a creative place - these Arid Madlands - and seekers seek it. They come in search of the strange and unusual, and without fail, they find plenty of it.

Buckner came here to record his 1996 record Devotion + Doubt, teaming with the ever-present Joey Burns and John Convertino, a pair Buckner describes as "one of the finest rhythm sections in musicdom." On the way he created and then lost the music that would later become The Hill, an experiment in breathing new life via music into Edgar Lee Master's Spoon River Anthology.

Lost in his glove compartment for four years, the tape was apparently just waiting for the right moment to make itself known, and once again found a comforting home in the desert air. Buckner describes coming back to Tucson to re-record the songs, again with Burns and Convertino, who were under orders to record without bass or drums, resulting in an unusual and atmospheric cello and anything-that'll-make-a-sound percussion combo.

Still, The Hill is the only Buckner album I've never been able to really get into, perhaps because it was put on CD as one 34-minute track, perhaps because it seemed like a tangent, perhaps because I'm impatient and just liked Since too much to break out and give it a chance.

Now Merge Records, Buckner's home for his last two albums, has announced that The Hill, 1995's Bloomed and 2002's Impasse will be re-released. All out-of-print now, the albums should get much needed notice via the Merge imprint.

On the Merge blog, Buckner describes the four-day Lubbock recording session that saw both 112-degree heat and a raging hail storm. And going back to the album with that in mind, I have to say the music sounds like a product of that hectic and schizophrenic weather.

The album opens with "Blue & Wonder," as solid a display of songwriting talent to ever lead off a debut record. The storytelling style that marks his songs is right there at the beginning. He's veiled and vague, using loosely connected moments to sketch tales with staggering levels of emotion:
"Well I've been stunned
And I've been turned
I've been undone and burned
I saw you as the answer to
Years of blue and wonder"

The chorus - "What's that word / I forget sometimes / it's the one that means / the love has left your eyes" - shows as well as any song that where Buckner drops off a tale is rarely where he picks it up again. His songs have holes - big, mysterious holes that lend more to the song's essence because they're there. Buckner uses those holes as dividers, leveraging powerful and evocative statements from sparse words.

Eight records in, Buckner has established himself as a songwriting force, a unique and compelling guitar player and a singer who uses every bit of his deep, gruff voice to deliver his songs with a passionate immediacy.

I've seen Buckner a half dozen times or so, but it seems like it's been at least two years since he came through Tucson, touring for Meadow. Merge lists just a few dates for a spring 2009 tour, and promises more, so I don't doubt Buckner will swing back this way soon.

Richard Buckner - Gauzy Dress In The Sun
Richard Buckner - Emily Sparks
Richard Buckner - Born Into Giving It Up
Richard Buckner - 2007 KCRW performance


Kevin said...

Great post and I was glad to see the news about this at Merge. "Bloomed" is one of my favorites, and it has even more sentimental value because I lived in Lubbock for two years.

Anonymous said...

I saw him in Denver late 2005 and he was all clean cut and looked healthy. Then I saw him again maybe a year later, maybe more, his hair was long, he had a scragily beard, and generally just looked like shit. Must have been a bad year for him. I think I only like his sad music about fucked up relationships. But I really like those. "Mother did you see what was about to happen/ she took me down so far I never quite made it back."