Richard Buckner – Our Blood
Haven’t checked out Richard Buckner in awhile? Join the club. It’s been five years since he released his last album (the low-key Meadow), a stretch that saw the singer-songwriter retreat into creative isolation, sequestered in an old grange hall in upstate New York. Between rare tour dates and a series of odd jobs, Buckner dedicated himself to a chronic process of writing, recording and tinkering. To consider the curious case of Our Blood is to hear its songs as a kind of psychic palimpsest: something recorded and erased and re-recorded over the imprints of what came before, then erased and re-recorded again, until the layers accrue their peculiar aura. There’s something a little uncanny about it, as through a series of strange calamities Buckner was compelled to make this album four different times. The latest, and last, version is a thing of rare and resonant beauty, laced with the performer’s trademarks – the ambient seepage, the poetic growl gone soft sometimes as silk, those little chigga-chigga guitar parts that sound like a car engine almost turning over, the words stripped down to telegram fragments – yet more deeply mindful of mortality, of twisting paths in the woods, and more revealing of the truths in that whiskey baritone so deliberate and intimately present.
The whole 36 minutes is of a single piece, never so much an assortment of tunes as an accumulation of consciousness, obsessively arranged, filtered, echoed, simmered down and firecrackered up. “Let’s waste the night, pay the price and get out of here. It’s not enough backing out just to disappear. Without a fight, we’d never know we’d won.” Think of all the possible ways to express those thoughts. Buckner manages to give it an air of suspended time, melodic grace, emotional gravity and subtle drama – the calm recollection of something deathly urgent, a flinty philosophy pillowed in a gentle pitch. Working with producer Malcolm Burn (and musical assists from pedal steel maestro Buddy Gage and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley), Buckner has made his most atmospheric offering yet, creating these fleeting tone poems out of minimal sources. It’s an uncommonly rich recording that only slowly unreels its meaning and impact. This troubador has made few that are better.