Richard Bucker Masters Two Pieces at Once
As Neil Young once said, “When people start asking you to do the same thing over and over again, that’s when you know you’re way too close to something that you don’t want to be near.” Originally known as a country singer/songwriter in the tradition of the Lubbock, Texas era that included Joe Ely and Butch Hancock, Richard Buckner shuns any possibility of getting pigeon-holed by continuing the cool evolution that has taken him from country bard to alternative poet and through avant-garde experimentation to land squarely in his own niche on Surrounded, his twelfth record since 1994.
Surrounded, released by Merge Records, is also a prose poem: dark, image-laden and symbolic while remaining gritty and real. The accompanying piece is posted on his website in full and can be read while listening to the tracks. The lyrics are ingeniously interwoven within the prose paragraphs. Words or phrases are omitted or altered where necessary to allow for the rhyme scheme and meter to work with the music. It’s like two pieces of art presented simultaneously to contrast and support one another. For instance, the poem reads: “Someone should’ve taken you aside, but, until you’re captured, they’ll never again be charmed into showing up at all. Why should they? How far do you think that you could you have ever come, encircled by the well-worn, the crowning-off and the half-torn? Who set you free believing that you just weren’t trying hard enough.” And the lyrics are sung, “Someone should have taken you aside / captured, never showin’ up / how far could you have ever come / encircled by the well-worn, crownin’ off and half torn / believing you weren’t tryin’ hard enough.”
The merging of these two mediums is an incredibly well-crafted feat, but it doesn’t threaten to overshadow the heavily beautiful, starkly produced, melodically powerful songs. Out of nine tracks, none are less than captivating. Buckner’s mesmerizing and troubled-yet-weary voice is both forlorn and defiant as he tells this story. “When You Tell Me How It Is” has a loopy, cinematic feel. Buckner rhythmically plucks an electric autoharp throughout the record, an instrument in which he apparently found the inspiration for the mood of the tracks.
A Suzuki Q Chord pedal also contributes to the pulsing drone of the tracks. On “Mood,” the distortion sounds like a slide, or even dogs howling in the distance. The last track, “Lean-To,” quoted above, is the highpoint, a swirling apex, fluid and moving, carrying you over the emotional waterfall of the album. Buckner may feel “surrounded,” but with this addition to his already colorful discography, he stands on his own.