If she weren’t so dang good at singing and playing fiddle, Becky Buller might make a fine novelist. The vivid characters that populate her songs have a life far past the last chord, experiencing heartbreak and hope, sweetness and sin, the mundane and the divine.
Distance and Time, the fifth album from this award-winning bluegrasser, imparts the lessons those characters learn as they travel through the world. In “Don’t Look Back,” a thrift-store find inspires a shift in focus from past to present, and on “Tell the Truth (Shame the Devil),” she enlists The Fairfield Four to drive the gospel message home. Her cover of Christian rock band NEEDTOBREATHE’s “More Heart, Less Attack” puts a driving acoustic spin on some pointed advice for these divided times.
But it’s not all preaching here. The bluegrass gets good and bendy on “I Dream in Technicolor,” a wild trip through Buller’s nighttime psyche. And “We Let Each Other Go” and “You Come Around” are good old-fashioned heartbreak songs that feel more like they’re torn out of the pages of a diary than taken from any sacred text.
The songs range widely in theme and texture, but the common thread is collaboration. Donna Ulisse, Jon Weisberger, and Eric Gibson are among Buller’s co-writers this time around, and singer Ronnie Bowman and Jerry Douglas on dobro provide some of the album’s standout moments.
But the featured-guest fireworks really go off on “The Barber’s Fiddle,” which won Collaborative Recording of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Awards last month. Helping to unfold the story of the red fiddle hanging on the wall of a barber shop are 18 (eighteen!) fiddlers, some of whom also contribute vocals. Among them are Sam Bush, Jason Carter, Laurie Lewis, Michael Cleveland, Deanie Richardson, Johnny Warren, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes, and Stuart Duncan. Such a crowded room could easily end up a muddled mess, but the sound and the spirit of the song ring out true and clear.
Anchoring it all, of course, are the core of the Becky Buller Band — Ned Luberecki on banjo, Professor Dan Boner on guitar, Nate Lee on mandolin, and Daniel Hardin on bass — whose talents shine throughout Distance and Time and imbue the songs with fiery bluegrass that holds to tradition even as it takes risks.
Distance and Time doesn’t require turning pages, but you’ll find that you’re eager to hear the next song, then the next, to meet some new characters and learn what you can from the roads they’re walking.