Buttercup – Heavy on the pop, light on the pedal
The last song on Buttercup’s first album, Gold, is a suitable microcosm for what the band seems is about. “That Shirt” backs you into the corner of the ring and just socks you one with a hook that’ll knock you senseless. Singer-songwriter Jim Buni chants the chorus, “You’re not so repulsive after all,” all the while the band backing it up with the sound of ’70s AM radio and ’90s pop sharpness. That’s what this band is about: clever lyricism and simple, short, killer pop tunes.
Gold, released in 1996 on Spirit Of Orr Records (hockey fans take note), is chock-full of those killer hooks and mostly upbeat pop-rock songs. Buni recounts that Spirit Of Orr’s Ron Schneiderman “heard a tape and contacted me, and I was pretty interested in just releasing it on cassette, but then he said, ‘I’d like to put it on CD,’ and I was just like, ‘Yes!’ We were really interested in just playing around and having something recorded.”
Buni grew up, as did most of the band, in towns surrounding the Boston area and “we just knew each other from playing around,” as he puts it. He grew up in a household where his father had folk music on the stereo fairly often. “I can remember going to some Mike Seeger shows, but my father never pushed it on me or anything,” Buni adds.
The only non-Massachusetts resident, pedal steel player Tim Obetz, is from Rochester, Minnesota. Obetz’s steel is not right up-front in Buttercup’s music; it’s more like solid framework, providing just enough twang to…say, warrant a half-page introduction to No Depression readers, for instance. More directly prevalent are the harmonies of Buni and bass player Colleen MacDonald; when they sing together it’s truly something to behold.
Now Spirit Of Orr and Buttercup are preparing for Love, the band’s upcoming October release, another 12 songs of the band’s amazing pop-with-a steel-player sound. Buni’s lyrics this time around are even stronger, with a cleverness reminiscent of a Camper Van Beethoven-era David Lowery. On songs such as the toe-tapping “Seaside Weekend”, Buni’s nasal voice sings, “And don’t feel sorry because you suck/Say the uncomfortable farewell/That saddle suits you well.” Buni and MacDonald’s harmonies are sublime on “A Fire”, a gorgeous, lilting ballad that flaunts all the strengths of this band.
The dual guitar playing of Buni and newcomer Mike Leahy and the added pedal steel give Love a slightly less rock feel than Gold. “Deal With the Devil” showcases both guitarists, again trapped in a ’70s and ’90s rock-pop time warp. Buni acknowledges that observation: “I guess AM radio is something that stuck with me, too,” he says. “Folk music I suppose, because it was always on the stereo — but the Fleetwood Mac ’70s sound, too, you know?”
Oh yes, we know.