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Richard Buckner
Merge Records

So, it's come to the 8th installment in the musical career of Mr. Richard Buckner, songwriter extraordinaire. Buckner's latest release, Meadow, is jam packed with the kind of introspective lyrics and dense sonic signature that fans have come to expect from the man who just might be the modern world's greatest bard. Meadow sees Buckner reacquainted with some of his old cohorts, including Doug Gillard (Guided By Voices) and J.D. Foster, who recorded the record as well as played on it. The character of Meadow is instantly familiar to long-time Buckner listeners, as J.D. Foster produced the record, and so the sound is similar to the thick sounds found on the classics Since and Devotion + Doubt.

A return to form of sorts, Meadow is filled with dark modern folk songs about traveling and exploration, revealing the once more restless spirit of Richard Buckner. "Town" begins the record in bright noisy fashion, featuring hooky guitars and Buckner's gravelly baritone turning in a fine performance. The song sets the stage for the movement of the record, speaking of a man plagued with the need to move, and so the journey begins. "Lucky" feels like Impasse era Buckner - the song is filled with chugging guitars, groovy basslines, and a weird far-off vocal sound that really accentuates the distance felt by the wanderer. The music is classic Buckner, attitude and sound, and the lyrics work their way around inside the listener's head the way that those older tracks did; they just get stuck there, forever contemplating their meaning and how it applies to one's own life.

The first acoustic guitars of the album arrive on "Mile". This song is a fast reminder of just how deep and resonant Buckner's voice can be while spinning its tales of lost souls. Set against the sparseness of dueling acoustic/electric guitars, Buckner's voice is a comfortable blanket that wraps around my heart, lulling me into peaceful rest while compelling me to listen more closely to the story that unravels. Doug Gillard's guitar flourishes are here at their most auspicious, propping up the air of sobriety and fading hope that the song presents. "Window" is filled with shuffling beats and grungy guitars that nicely offset the electric pianos and hallway vocals, creating an atmosphere and tension that is hard to pin down and explain. "Kingdom" rolls along lively, with the first real glimpse of hope since the album's beginning, brighter and more promising than other tracks here. This song is a perfect example of how Buckner can orchestrate simple guitar/bass/drums into a symphony of intricate layers that play off each other perfectly. The arrangement is amazing and his voice has a lifting feeling among the trembling guitars that hints at heaven.

The dirgey piano of "Numbered" mixed with the weirdly slipping drums creates the perfect backdrop for Buckner's intense vocal melodies and dreary storytelling. "Spell" lifts the dreary veil once more, moving things up a notch tempo-wise and allowing Buckner's amazing voice to sail in the open air with a tranquil and almost relaxed feeling. Closing out the record is another acoustic number called "The Tether And The Tie". This song almost doesn't fit with the aural density of the rest of the record, the tone is brighter and the song is almost all delicately fingerpicked acoustic guitar balanced by a bit of electric piano and gently strummed distortion. The track is classically beautiful and reaffirms Buckner's ability to play intricate guitar arpeggios while creating a mood and lyric of incredible depth… a song akin to those from Paul Simon's early days.

"Man, I was high, stepping out on goodbyes unspoken/ And once in a while, I'd stumble out into the open/ true, I wasn't all I thought I'd be given some of the timing/ and none of it showing…" Buckner's lyrics are as enigmatic and troubling as they've ever been, filled with a loneliness and questing that few singers can match. The songs on Meadow all fall right around 3 minutes in length, making for what could be considered a perfect pop album, were it not for the darkness and depth found in these songs. This album contains all the things we've come to expect from Buckner - great dark music and lyrics that have a timeless quality - one that stands them easily next to traditional American folk music in their quality and importance. Hopefully this record will finally be the wake-up call that the world needs to take notice and give props to this amazing writer, placing him on that top shelf next to the greats like Dylan, Young, and Been.

-Embo Blake

Track Listing:
1. Town
2. Canyon
3. Lucky
4. Mile
5. Before
6. Window
7. Kingdom
8. Numbered
9. Spell
10. The Tether And The Tie

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