Richard Buckner – Surrounded
Haunting electronica-backed folk
Though he’d released two indie albums in the mid-90s, Richard Buckner arrived in most listeners’ ears with his 1997 major label debut, Devotion + Doubt. His voice and delivery were unlike just about anyone who’d come before. His early music found cover under the Americana umbrella, but even then the steel, fiddle and vocal edgings that signaled country were balanced by strong elements of folk, pop, rock and jazz. His weary vocals played as hushed confessions, and his impressionistic lyrics were filled with fragments, shards really, of his recently ended marriage. For all but the few who’d latched on to him earlier, it was a breathtaking introduction.
His two albums with MCA led to another indie stint and a 2004 landing at Merge. A string of misfortunes (including a failed soundtrack opportunity, an inadvertent brush with the law and technical difficulties) led to a five-year gap between 2006’s Meadow and 2011’s Our Blood. But now, with comparative ease, he’s produced an album backed with ambient electronic textures, tape loops and layered vocals. Buckner’s trilled notes can suggest Randy Travis or George Jones, but the atmospheric backgrounds, such as on “When You Tell Me How It Is,” frame his voice similarly to Roxy Music-era Bryan Ferry.
Buckner’s lyrics continue in the redacted vein of his earlier work, sketching unmet expectations, tenacity, anxiety and other shadowy emotions. The music follows suit, with a throbbing background for “Mood” and a melancholy optimism in “Go.” The ambient backing tracks provide a surprisingly good fit for what is essentially folk music. But this folk music has a haunted soul, and the electronics are grounded by finger-picked acoustic guitars. The things you’ve loved about Richard Buckner’s earlier records are still here, but he’s stretched out to new timbres that underline his songs with moody electronic textures.