Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blonde Redhead / The Pre-4AD Years

Blonde Redhead

Per a request for Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, I thought an overview of Blonde Redhead's early work was in order. If you're more familiar with the later "4AD" years, you'll see the seeds of their future planted here... These earlier recordings are also where they were penned as the second coming of Sonic Youth (they shook that comparison off by 2000).

Blonde Redhead / Blonde Redhead
Released 1995


Recalling the no wave movement of the late '70s, the self-titled debut of New York City's Blonde Redhead is a glorious piece of dense, art-damaged noise, with songs that move from drifting melodicism to raging aural assaults in the course of a few measures. Taking their cues most directly from Sonic Youth (Steve Shelley produced the album), Blonde Redhead revel in noise and create vast sonic landscapes out of which songs naturally emerge. The focus here tends to be on atmospherics, and yet there is never the feeling of utter chaos; instead, the album functions like a work of controlled mayhem, referencing a wide range of musical approaches. The opening track, "I Don't Want U," starts off like jazz-rock, building momentum until it erupts in a blast of indie rock noise, anchored throughout by a steadily rolling bassline. "Snippet"'s quite-loud-quiet dynamics are offset by the driving rock of "Mama Cita," and the album's closer, "Girl Boy," comes across like delirious dream pop. The entire album is drenched in dense, multilayered feedback, with a rhythm section that works to keep the guitars in control, underpinning the attack. Blonde Redhead have created a great record, especially for fans of experimental rock: difficult, noisy, and exhilarating. - Brandon Gentry, All Music Guide


Blonde Redhead / La Mia Vita Violenta
Released 1995

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With their second release, La Mia Vita Violenta, Blonde Redhead maintain their organically low-fi aesthetic and continue to prove themselves as one of indie rock's real triumphs. Even after the departure of guitarist Maki Takahashi, they still make more noise with three people than most bands could make with ten. Guitars tear into the songs -- pointed, direct, and tough -- while the vocals of Kazu Makino and Amedeo Pace weave tightly into drummer Simone Pace's impeccably precise backing. Timing is everything, and Blonde Redhead certainly have it. They're dirty when they need to be and crystal-clear when the situation calls for it. Never angry, the trio plays hard and fast to the point where the instruments seem to play themselves with the deftest of precision. The production is so skillful that even with the most Spartan of recording gear, guitars end up sounding synthetic, in that painting-looks-like-a-photograph kind of way. And the volatile changes -- from sweet acoustic strums to drilling power chords -- make this album a whirl of unexpected surprises. La Mia Vita Violenta is math rock without the nerdiness and art rock without the pretentiousness. - Ken Taylor, All Music Guide

Blonde Redhead / Fake Can be Just As Good
Released 1997


It seems like New York trio Blonde Redhead have been dogged with Sonic Youth comparisons since the day they formed years ago, taking their name from an old song by No New York faves DNA. Such yakking only grew louder when the group, then a quartet, signed with Steve Shelley's Smells Like label in 1994 for a pair of LPs, and then let the Sonic Youth drummer produce them. Three years down the road, it's a resemblance still firmly in place on Fake Can Be Just as Good, despite the group employing producer John Goodmanson and switching labels to Chicago's venerable, powerful Touch & Go. But if this stubborn outfit of two handsome Italian-Americans and a pretty Japanese-American doesn't care about being branded copycats, and it seems they don't, then neither should anyone else. Improving with each release, the solid, crashing duo of guitarists (and alternating singers) Kazu Makino and Amedeo Pace may borrow an ethic, an anti-pop stance, and atonal tension that's super-familiar, but the clean sound, direct attack, and straightforward, tense delivery are all their own. Moreover, there's plenty of room for further exploration in these dark, forbidding, tempest-ridden post-punk seas. In fact, when Makino and Pace get cold, claustrophobic, weird, wired, and chilling (with help from borrowed Unwound bassist Vern Rumsey) is when they also nearly explode in deep undercurrents: see the best things here, the quietly terrified "Symphony of Treble" and "Bipolar." And unlike 95 percent of all bands based on the New York noise tradition, Blonde Redhead never just grind like nails to chalkboards -- their well-produced sound is never annoying or unpleasant -- nor forget that music is supposed to have hooks, no matter how much it eschews obvious pop melodic conventions. Far from mere protégés of any band or scene, Blonde Redhead are a unique sub-branch all their own on a fertile tree. - Jack Rabid, All Music Guide

Blonde Redhead / In An Expression of the Inexpressible
Released 1998

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The oft-used comparison to Sonic Youth doesn't really hold a lot of water, as Blonde Redhead's music has always been a bit less swirling, more spontaneous, and rougher around the edges. Further differentiating them from Sonic Youth is their bass-less approach. In an Expression of the Inexpressible, their fourth release, is as uncompromising as Fake Can Be Just as Good and La Mia Vita Violenta, but this time Blonde Redhead wanted to be produced by someone outside the band. The sound is fuller and more polished, and in the capable hands of producers John Goodmanson and Guy Picciotto (of Fugazi fame), they've never sounded quite as good. Still, Kazu Makino's high-pitched, Björk-ish vocals can get irritating at times, and the two guitars never quite reach a compelling level of interplay. Blonde Redhead, who sometimes are too clever for their own good, could, in fact, learn a great deal from Sonic Youth, since most of the tracks never come across with much urgency. - Matthew Hillburn, All Music Guide

Blonde Redhead / Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons
Released 2000


For a record produced by Guy Picciotto (Fugazi, Rites of Spring), Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons is a surprisingly quiet affair. Rarely do the cuts on Blonde Redhead's 2000 release get much louder than an electric guitar. With their fifth record, Blonde Redhead finally emerges from the shadows of Sonic Youth's post-punk legacy by avoiding the expected detunings, distortions, and shrillness of the genre. The three-piece manages to create a record that is subtle, tuneful, and sublime. On "Loved Despite of Great Faults," instrumentation mainly consists of acoustic guitar, piano, and percussion rather than an assault of power chords, yet the mood of the song is just as effective. While the record may be quieter, it still manages to move in several different directions. "This Is Not" tips its hat to Ric Ocasek with a new wave-inspired piece while the opening cut, "Equally Damaged," and "Ballad of Lemons" suggest an influence from Danny Elfman. Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons may not accurately reflect the full body of Blonde Redhead's work, yet it presents an easy place to start. - Yancey Stricker, All Music Guide

Blonde Redhead / Melodie Citronique
Released 2000


Blonde Redhead's Melodie Citronique reworks three songs from its excellent album Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons and adds two songs that highlight the group's multicultural, multilingual approach. "En Particulier" is a straightforward French translation of Lemons' dreamy "In Particular"; "Odiata Per le Sue Virtu" is "Hated Because of Great Qualities" with an Italian makeover. "Four Damaged Lemons," a remix of "For the Damaged," makes the song even more fragile and delicately lovely by adding a looped piano, brittle acoustic guitar, backwards sound effects, and chiming keyboards. The bouncy, sing-song "Chi É E Non É" sounds a bit like one of the Pixies' poppier moments sung in Italian, while the version of Serge Gainsbourg's "Slogan" suggests that his slinky, sensual style has become almost as big an influence on Blonde Redhead's sound as Sonic Youth was previously. Though it isn't quite as big a step forward for the group as Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, Melodie Citronique is an enjoyable companion piece to that album, as well as a further exploration of the group's softer side. - Heather Phares, All Music Guide

Blonde Redhead / Live at the Bottom of the Hill
Recorded in 2000


A great recording on one of their best tours!

01 - Melody of Certain Three
02 - Hated Because of Great Qualities
03 - Futurism vs. Passeism Part 2
04 - Bipolar
04 - I Am There While You Choke on Me
05 - Loved Despite Of Great Faults
06 - Missile++
07 - Distilled
08 - In Particular
09 - Kazuality
11 - U.F.O.
12 - This Is Not
13 - Water
14 - For The Damaged
15 - Suimasen
16 - I Still Get Rocks Off

Blonde Redhead / Live on KCRW
Recorded 2004


Another great recording...

01 - Anticipation
02 - Falling Man
03 - Misery is a Butterfly
04 - Melody
05 - Messenger
06 - Magic Mountain

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Josephine Foster / A Collection

Josephine Foster

One of the most unique voices in the "singer-songwriter" category (hate that term), Josephine Foster shares a little bit of opera, a little bit of blues, a little bit of country and a little bit of Tin Pan Alley. Essentially, an incredibly haunting and unique sound.

Enjoy these releases by the indescribable Josephine Foster.

Josephine Foster / There Are Eyes Above
Released 2000


Four track recordings of Josephine, a ukelele and her voice. This was released as a CD-R back in 2000. While not necessarily her best album, it certainly set the stage for the music she would release throughout the first decade of the millenium.

Josephine Foster / All The Leaves Are Gone
Released 2004

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Placing All the Leaves Are Gone in the CD player is a little like a time warp. Is the album a reissue of an obscure '60s group from San Francisco? Or is it, perhaps, a contemporary recording (2004) that evokes yesteryear? In the case of Josephine Foster & the Supposed, it's the latter. The easiest comparison would be toJefferson Airplane, circa 1967, with out of kilter melodies in minor keys and the guitars barely in tune. Foster plays the part of Grace Slick here, but she sounds more like Maddy Prior on acid. Her hippie, drug-induced vocal delivery is supported by the Supposed, who are guitarist/bassist Brian Goodman and drummer Rusty Peterson. While instrumental parts seem to have been dubbed here and there on All the Leaves Are Gone, the arrangements are mostly spare, which works well for creating a spacious sound, even when things get kind of loud. How listeners react to the material will probably depend on how familiar they are with groups likeJefferson Airplane, early Grateful Dead, and even the Velvet Underground . The opening song, "Well-Heeled Man," certainly captures one's attention, and Foster's fragile vocal is evocative. While the effect here and elsewhere is often winning, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the experimental mood of the material. The music ranges from gentle to dissonant, from a hush to a crash, alternately pulling the listener in and pushing the listener away. The listener may be intrigued or overwhelmed by All the Leaves Are Gone, but he or she will never be bored. - Ronnie D. Lankford, All Music Guide

Josephine Foster / Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You
Released 2005


On Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You, Josephine Foster trades the rangy psych-folk of her 2004 album with the Supposed for the lonesome chill of an empty studio. She handles everything on Hazel Eyes, from layering her vibrating saw blade of a voice to accompanying it with kazoo, dulcimer, harp, homemade percussion, and, at the center, her dry and spindly acoustic guitar. Foster's singing often consists of a wordless, moody sigh. But she also fills the corners of her lilting, swaying songs with talk of bones, treasure, and hominy grits. Her antiquated enunciation can be little trying -- she's from Chicago, not Kisimul Castle. But the style works if you let yourself believe that Hazel Eyes is a crazy old 78 you found in an attic. (Its runic, earth mother cover art helps.) Alongside the album's more esoteric material -- including "Pruner's Pair" and the raga-like "Celebrant's Song" -- are pieces with an at least an element of easygoing fun, like the casual, old-timey flair of "Good News," or "Golden Wooden Tone," which with its kazoos, harmonies, and tumbling jacks percussion is downright gleeful. Gleeful like the final song of Puritan girls condemned for witchery, but gleeful nevertheless. For fans ofEspers, Joanna Newsom, and Foster's own work in the comparatively less strange Born Heller. - Johnny Loftus, All Music Guide

Josephine Foster / A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing
Released 2006

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For her third solo album, Josephine Foster went for something simple, but extremely strange. Basically, A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing consists of renditions of 19th century art songs, with Brian Goodman's acid electric guitar providing the X factor. Foster has selected pages by Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms, which she sings in German, in typical lieder fashion (acute vibrato included), accompanying herself soberly at the acoustic guitar. Upon hearing the first few seconds of "An die Musik," the first track, you cannot help but wonder if you have put the right disc in the CD player -- is this a reissue of some old wax recordings miraculously restored? -- at which point the electric licks kick in and things take an unmistakable contemporary feel. Goodman seems to operate on his own level, weaving acid lines in and out of the songs, often with little relation to them. The contrast is downright shocking at first and remains disquieting for the first four songs. By the fifth track, "Wehmut," Foster changes her approach: an old piano replaces the acoustic guitar, while amateur harmonica and other miscellaneous instruments create something much closer to the free folk aesthetics some listeners are probably expecting from this album. The longest piece by far, "Auf Einer Burg" goes further in that direction, retaining only the ghost of Schumann's original melody, obscured by reverb and drenched in multi-tracked psychedelic guitar improvisations. The dislocation felt in the earlier tracks is dispelled in this case, which, paradoxically, makes this piece the "saner" one of the bunch and also the least effective. "Nähe Des Geliebten" comes back to the arrangements of the first few songs, closing the album on a more positive note. Some fans of Foster will argue that her two previous solo albums hinted at something like this -- Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You had a certain antiquated quality to it -- but nothing can really prepare you for A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing. People who make up lists of "weird albums" will most likely take a shine to this one, but don't look at it as a novelty record; it has unique charm and can unexpectedly grow on you. - All Music Guide, Francois Couture

Josephine Foster / Was It That Ever Was
Released 2006


What a far out release from Josephine Foster, we can barely describe the unusal mixing and melting on her newest self released effort. From the fire noise guitar blasting prelude to all manner of elegant folk musings and musical enchantments performed with piano, percussion, guitar, and Josephine's amazing and unique voice. Including many original compositions, improvised songs, Japanese folk songs, and a couple jam-backed spoken word performances, a very ambitious and captivating release!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wim Mertens / Solo Recordings

Wim Mertens

Happy New Year! I'm back after a little bit of a holiday and wanted to kick the new year off with something a little different for the blog. If you're not familiar with Wim Mertens, he is a composer from Belgium that's been creating a combination of minimalism with New Music, since the early 80's. His music is engaging, relatively easy compared to some of the other modern composers and has a delicacy that's undescribable.

Today, I'm concentrating on his music for solo piano and voice.

Wim Mertens / A Man of No Fortune, And With a Name To Come
Released 1986


"For many of the fans of Wim Mertens, one of the first things we did upon discovering the Internet was to search for him. I spent years unsuccessfully looking for his CDs in stores and catalogs before going online in 96, and was most gratified to find that I could now acquire them. And I have. His fans in the US are few but fierce, and releases like A Man Of No Fortune, And With A Name To Come, explain that ferocity.

This is an absolutely beautiful CD. Wim is like no one else, so if you've never heard him or of him, be prepared for the unusual. If you have heard a lick here or there and wonder where to begin, this is a great place for his solo output. His music is an intoxicating whirlwind of just enough repetition to be hypnotic, just enough movement to keep the mind engaged, and tunes that are almost surreal in their sublime beauty. Add his otherworldy voice soaring above those piano lines, and you have something truly extraordinary.

This is an older release, but still one of my favorites. The first track, Casting No Shadow, is among the most beautiful compositions of our time. I am amazed at how he makes so much out of so little. And You See is another that cannot be ignored, a pounding piano line that sucks the listener in and a sad and dervish-like voice that, while uttering syllables meaningless to me, sounds as if it knows all there is to know of time and history. That sounds melodramatic, but this is powerful music, expertly constructed and deeply intense. The other tracks are equally enticing.

That being said, not everyone likes Wim's weird soprano-like voice and minimalist style. But if you're open to the new and the offbeat, give it a try. It is just a stunner." - Amazon.com review

Wim Mertens / After Virtue
Released 1987

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Wim Mertens second major release for solo piano picks up where A Man of No Fortune leaves off. Somewhat uneven, there are some beautiful tracks contained in the album.

Wim Mertens / Strategie de la Rupture
Released 1991


A few years ago I saw the documentary 'Here we are, waiting for you' by a brazilian filmmaker. During the film I had more and more problems paying attention to the visual content, because of the music. I had never heard anything like that before, and it was magnificent! The credits at the end told me the music was from Wim Merten's album 'Strategie De La Rupture'.

To be short: I have never heard music which 'hypnotizes' me more then this piece of masterwork. I have a classical music education, play the piano myself and have listen to a lot of piano music in various genres, but this album by far impresses me most. It's hard to tell what exactly attracts me in the music of Wim Mertens, but I think it's the simplicity and space in his music which gives you time for your own interpretation of the music. The simplicity doesn't make the music 'easy', but rather hypnotizing. No speedy fingerwork, no complex (jazz-)chords, no mind boggling chord progressions (which all have their charms), but pure true music. Sting once said that the power of music is in the silence between the notes; the emptiness lifts you higher, the notes being the helpful environment... I think Sting meant something like this album of Wim Mertens. Hear it yourself! - Amazon.com Review

Wim Mertens / Epic That Never Was
Released 1993

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Oh, the Mertens confusion. CDs all over, with duplicate tracks, different arrangments, obscure titles, and those prices! Solo? Ensemble? Which to choose?

Well, this is a stunner. I have had it for over 7 years, and enjoy it more now than I did when it first arrived. This is in many ways my favorite of the solo CDs. I cannot grow tired of it. Wim is an astonishingly talented musician who creates the most lovely and moving tunes out of the smallest pieces, tiny tunes, endlessly varied, repeated, twisted and turned upside down, played with a superbly confident pianism and that otherworldy voice that startles, then challenges, then finally comforts. And as the other reviewer says, the tracks available only here are absolutely grand.

There are many pretenders to the throne of "The Best" in this field, which I guess would be minimalist/ethereal/ambient music, but there is nothing ambient about this CD. This will engage and grip and not let go, just as it did when performed to that lucky audience in Lisbon in 1993. - Amazon.com Review

Wim Mertens / Jeremiades
Released 1995


This is Wim Merten's fourth studio album with solo piano and his unique vocal style. He stretches to the limit with the first track, a 23-minute repetition of a 4-bar piano theme that builds to an impossibly beautiful conclusion. Unlike most minimal or repetitive music, this piece shows that repetition can be a powerful device without alienating the listener. The first time I heard it, I didn't realize that there was such a short theme being repeated because the variations in melody and in the vocal work kept developing in a subtle way. Mertens sings in a unique "medieval falsetto" voice that some find irritating, but which is deeply emotional. He has developed a highly personal style in his piano/voice work that likely cannot be duplicated by others. While this is not the most accessible of his piano albums (try "After Virtue" for a starter) this is a strong, sometimes exhilarating album. - Amazon.com Review

Wim Mertens/ Lisa
Released 1996


No voice on this album, just his great piano playing, and some additional whisteling. The album is hauntingly beautifull, but terribly short - it only lasts about 20 minutes. It's a kind of Brad Mehldau meets minimalism album; it might sound very simplistic, it still is beautifull enough to blow you away. If it would be a bit longer, it would be a five star album for sure. - Amazon.com Review

Wim Mertens / Der Heisse Brei
Released 2000

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It is hard to describe what Wim Mertens' vocal music sounds like to people who haven't heard him. The music is piano and voice; the piano is a kind of Philip Glass minimalistic music, though more melody minded, and quite a lot better. It has more direction, evolves and vibrates more. Wim Mertens makes you feel like you're not listening to 'his' piano music, but to the instrument in general. The tricky part is: he sings. I don't know anyone who 'likes' it. Either you hate, or you love it. Needless to say, I do love it. I have heard people call him the 'singing teletubbie', as he doesn't use words, but 'sounds' (comperable to Meredith Monk or Lisa Gerrard), and it's very direct, instictive, playfull yet haunting music. On this album, he seems to push to melodic powers of his voice further then on the previous ones; it album is less repetitive, though it still makes you think you've known these melodies forerver. If you don't know his music, you should check it out (especially his 'piano and voice' albums). If you do, I'm sure you've already bought it, and all of these words are in vain... - Amazon.com Review

Wim Mertens / Sin Embargo
Released 1997

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And we thought him an ordinary man! The Man, his Voice and his Piano now become The Man, his Whistle and his Guitar. WM plucks and strums decently. He ably transplants beautiful ordinary chords from the piano to the guitar and extended, painfully questioning melodic lines from winds to the single guitar strings. It's the sound that comes as a suprise, not the musical matter, which is of course carefully recycled WM vocabulary. And yes, this time he whistles where he would normally sing - just one piece, as on "After Virtue". WM's self-irony reaches its peak in this brilliant travesty. - Amazon.com Review

Wim Mertens / Un Respiro
Released 2004

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Un respiro, Mertens' new solo album offers 10 new compositions, often very rythmical tracks composed for two pianos and two voices all performed by the composer himself. It shows Mertens' passion for the voice, not using it as an instrument but presenting the voice as a guide for the piano, always looking for pure expression only. Un respiro is Mertens' 6th solo studio album as a solo performer pianist/singer. - Amazon.com

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Richard Buckner / A Collection

Richard Buckner

Don't know why this feels so appropriate around X-Mas. Is it the "Holiday Blues"? Whatever it may be, Richard Buckner is probably one of the best "singer-songwriters" veering towards the alt-country vein. There is an incredible amount of passion, heartache and beauty in every note he sings. If you pick one, I highly recommend Devotion + Doubt, one of the finest albums of the 1990's.

Richard Buckner / Bloomed
Released 1994


Buckner's debut is an accomplished but subdued affair with hardly a trace of rock in sight. The emphasis is on his rich-but-weary vocals and sober tales of romance and restlessness, with dignified Texas prairie backup by such esteemed regionals as Lloyd Maines (who produced) and Ponty Bon. Very much in the vein of Butch Hancock, but much more ordinary at this point, without the eccentricity and boisterousness that characterizes much of Hancock and fellow Lubbockite Terry Allen's work. - All Music Guide

Richard Buckner / Devotion + Doubt
Released 03.11.1997

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Richard Buckner's second album of cross-country folk is an exploration of love's paranoia and its resulting desperation and hopelessness. Stemming from the singer/songwriter's divorce, the 13 songs on Devotion + Doubt reflect and, to a lesser degree, celebrate both his newfound independence and loneliness. His road-weary voice (often calmed to a whisper here) coupled with the sparing strums of his acoustic guitar, strike a point of intimacy within the songs, giving the best of them ("Pull," "4am") the feeling that they were reluctantly cribbed from personal diary entries. But Buckner never sounds defeated on Devotion + Doubt, only a bit haunted, as if he's convinced himself -- based on past attempts at love and their eventual failures -- that he's destined to make the same mistakes again and again, no matter how hard he tries to make a relationship work. - All Music Guide

Richard Buckner / Since
Released 08.11.1998


Richard Buckner's follow-up to his 1997 divorce odyssey Devotion + Doubt is a more upbeat affair, with questions of faith and being tossed into the electric mix. Moving from contemplative singer-songwriter treks ("Once") to blurry guitar rave-ups ("Believer"), Since is the picking-up-and-getting-on antidote to Devotion + Doubt's downer trip. Buckner still seems troubled by life's little hang-ups, but instead of falling into an acoustic-drenched funk, he rages against his blues with his guitar. That doesn't mean Since isn't without its distressing moments; there are plenty of hushed and fragile songs here that recall the breaking tone of his previous two albums. Yet, for all of the creeping positivity going on within the grooves, Buckner sounds more weary than ever, his already delicate voice cracking under the pressure as he trudges his way through his own brand of electric folk music. - All Music Guide

Richard Buckner / The Hill
Released 10.30.2000

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(Note: The CD is one track... approximately 35 minutes)

Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology, a series of poems originally published in serial form in 1914-1915, provided the subject matter for nomadic troubadour Richard Buckner's 2000 release The Hill. In the poems, the dead in an Illinois graveyard relay details from their lives in matter-of-factly haunting tones. When originally published, Masters' believable characters tore away at the strict moral facade of small-town life through their tales of adultery, casual murder, and morphine addiction. Who better than Buckner to interpret these lost souls' voices in his growling, plaintive murmur, accompanied most often by sparse acoustic guitar and stark accompaniment. Through this earthy channeler, the names from ragged gravestones almost float in front of the listener while hollowed eyes reveal the details of their own deaths.

Unfortunately, while the subject matter and the musician are an ideal match, the album as a whole falls short of Buckner's famous heartfelt intimacy and inventive songwriting. Fans who have come to appreciate his snapshot imagery and dark wordplay may be disappointed at this interpretation of someone else's work, as appropriate as it may be. The 18 individual poems are recorded as one continuous 34-minute track, making it difficult to tell when one woman's childbirth death travels into another man's drunken despair, and the warm acoustic guitar, mandolin, and violin are on occasion jarringly interrupted by misplaced electronic sweeps and buzzes. Still, the haunting charm of "Oscar Hummel" and "Emily Sparks" show the familiar passion and honesty the singer is known for. Buckner continues to distance himself from the limiting country-folk label with increasingly ambitious projects, all of which are interesting but some of which fail to fully utilize his talents. - All Music Guide

Richard Buckner / Richard Buckner
Released 2000


Richard Buckner first pressed up this low-frills, self-titled item for sale at his concerts following the 2000 release of The Hill; the self-titled disc consists of Buckner performing 11 songs armed only with his acoustic guitar in a San Francisco studio in 1996. All these songs were later re-recorded on the albums Devotion + Doubt and Since, and while listening one gets the feeling that these were really just demos cleaned up for release. That said, that's not to say these performances don't offer some surprises for fans; this version of "Boys, the Night Will Bury You" has a very different arrangement and melodic sense than the one which would appear on Since, while the more straightforward take of "Pull" gives the song a very different spin than it had on Devotion + Doubt. And anyone who has ever seen one of Buckner's solo acoustic shows knows he's a compelling and charismatic performer, and this disc manages to capture a bit of that presence on a piece of aluminum and plastic. However, none of the performances on Richard Buckner can honestly be said to be better than the studio recordings which followed. In 2003, Buckner reissued this disc in a widely available edition, which seems fitting -- while this is music worth hearing, it's too slight to merit the three-figure prices it was fetching among collectors. - All Music Guide

Richard Buckner / Impasse
Released 10.08.2002


Grizzled folkie Richard Buckner evokes more dark snapshots of life and the intricacies of relationships on his fifth release, Impasse. Similar in feel and texture to his previous releases, Impasse winds around the same moody corners, experimenting with the intimacy of the best singer/songwriters and the quirky fuzz and crunch of indie rock. The spirits of frequent collaborators Joey Burns and John Convertino linger large over this project, and after an initial listen it is surprising to find out that Buckner played all of the instruments this time around (with the exception of the drums, performed expertly by his wife, artist Penny Jo Buckner). Mellotron hums and vibraphone chimes back the singer's familiar growl and warm, nylon-stringed guitar, with textures floating past like faded slides bought from a garage sale. Landing somewhere between Since's driving experimentation and the melancholy drones of Devotion + Doubt, the album fits squarely into Buckner's catalog, but may not push too far in either direction. While Since emphasized Buckner's grit with rocked-out guitar passages and wild sonic abandon and Devotion + Doubt pushed him nearly over the edge in its soul-crushing depression and beautifully haunting themes of loss and heartbreak, Impasse finds the author seemingly more comfortable with the cards in his hand. The tension between musicians on Since and the tensions between Buckner and himself on Devotion + Doubt are subtly missing on Impasse, but this wiser and gentler Richard Buckner seems to be embracing a more even keel. With no soul-baring a cappella tracks and no glitchy rave-ups, the album seems to be painted with the same brush from start to finish, which certainly makes for a more even listen, but there is something about the contrast in his previous works that is missing here. Listening to just the first few seconds of each track, there is a discomforting similarity in the way each song starts, almost as if Buckner has worked himself into a familiar pattern and is happy working within it time and time again. Still, every song on the album is fantastic -- starkly beautiful and unusually comforting. While this collection of songs is not Buckner's best, it still is head and shoulders above 99 percent of the angst-fueled singer\songwriters out there. - All Music Guide

Richard Buckner / Impasse-ette
Released 09.10.2002

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This six-song E.P. works as a combination sampler and companion piece to Richard Buckner's full-length release, Impasse. Like the full-length release, Impasse-ette contains the same churning mix of acoustic and electric sounds, sometimes breathtakingly intimate, sometimes fuzzed beyond recognition. The sampler contains acoustic versions of two songs from the album, and three previously unavailable songs. The charming and sweet "Stumble-Ette," along with "Remainder," work well as introductions -- or brief sketches -- and stand in sharp contrast to the chilling prayer "It's Still '56." None of these tracks are necessarily essential, but rabid Buckner fans will snatch it up just the same. - All Music Guide

Richard Buckner / Dents and Shells
Released 10.12.2004

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The darkness that surrounds Richard Buckner's writing always seems to be the focus of scrutiny for every judging ear, be it a professional critic's or an armchair critic's, and for good reason considering the elliptical, image-laden construction of Buckner's banter, but the constant reference to this blanket has almost unjustly glorified the artist into an impossible mystery. What isn't often mentioned is Buckner's ability to fill his music and lyrics with such a brutal and heavy heart that critics are quick to point to his lifestyle on the road, which implies a loner mentality, and his first divorce, which fueled his second album, Devotion + Doubt. When Impasse was released in late 2002, it was widely noted in the press that Buckner and his second wife, Penny Jo Buckner, were the only two musicians on the album and that, between the recording and the release of Impasse, the pair had split. The question on everyone's lips seemed to be what the follow-up would sound like and if essentially it would be Devotion + Doubt, Pt. 2. In some ways Dents and Shells treads similar ground in that it reflects some serious life change, but the impression Buckner leaves implies more a mutual understanding of why the two split rather than the paranoia that filled Devotion + Doubt. Much can be read into the lyrics of "Invitation" and "Her" -- and even, depending on how lucid one allows himself to become, the imagery of the artwork depicting two birds, one hovering above a circle and the other a square, flying in opposite directions away from a tree -- but what remains is another release that sounds how Richard Buckner has always sounded: grizzly, conceptual, fragmented, brooding, and plaintive. Dents and Shells also represents a change in Buckner's business, having moved over to Merge for this release, and back to a larger band (misery loves company?), recalling the approach to his third album, Since. The band Buckner assembled for Dents and Shells fits his standard of choosing notable musicians, the most prominent being Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey and Meat Puppets alum and former bassist for Bob Mould, Andrew DuPlantis. The re-emergence of pedal steel in Buckner's sonic nomenclature, played expertly by Mike Hardwick and Gary Newcomb, further solidifies the connection with Since while the liberal use of piano and organs hint at the atmosphere of The Hill with a bit more ebb and flow in style than what was exhibited on Impasse. Naturally the chosen musicians' approach to arrangements are different than previous sidemen, but Dents and Shells might best be looked at as Buckner's catalog refined into a clear and cohesive effort with which fans should be very pleased. - All Music Guide

Richard Buckner and John Langford / Sir Dark Invader vs. The Fanglord
Released 2005

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"Jon Langford met Richard Buckner in the security booth at Buck Owen's Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, CA where they had been chained together for their own protection. Mouths taped shut with duct tape, they communicated via primitive Morse code messages tapped out on each other's foreheads with fish bones. The ordeal was brief but formative, and after countless power breakfasts and costume parties from Edmonton to Austin, from Brooklyn to the Bay Area, they fell exhausted into a photobooth and saw how fantastic they looked together in neat black and white rectangles and smelling faintly of eggs. They decided to spend a year in Sally Timms' apartment making this album for release on Buried Treasure Records."

-- Captain J. Langford of the H.M.S. Mekon

Richard Buckner / Meadow
Released 09.12.2006

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"Pretty destroyed/comin' through/sees your spin/around the room...are you sitting down?" These are some of the lyrics from "Town," the opening track on Richard Buckner's Meadow, sung to an urgent progression of distorted electric and acoustic guitars and drums. As unsettling as this is, the song is chock-full of Buckner's inherent melodic sense, and it's easier to bear, somehow, this darkness and melancholy. Produced by J.D. Foster at his home studio, and at Buckner's, with some additional work done at Brooklyn Recording, this is an album of absences, of ghosts so far down the highway only their traces remain. Buckner's sense of rock & roll is infused with images from country, folk, the desert, the blues, early American popular music; virtually everywhere he's been. In some ways one can say that these ten songs are his own companion to his recording of some of the Spoon River Anthology on Hill. Each track here has a one word title except for the final one, "The Tether and the Tie." But Buckner's revisiting the cautious grief and optimism on Bloomed, too. Everything here is written in a state of absence, of the previous, the past, and how it can be reconciled. The gorgeous shimmering piano, drums and guitars intro on "Lucky" ease into the startling words: "Forgetting where the roads align, bowing out and back again/Something made it over/A chance to cross the shards you see...." These lyrics are held together by bridges and refrains that further underscore their poetry. Its strength is in the missing middle, the hole in the middle, the thing that needs to be revisited but can't quite be because it's already gone and only gray shadows remain.- All Music Guide