Richard Buckner

Dents and Shells
(Merge Records)

Richard Buckner's musical adventurousness has found him circling a particular vein of country-folk, dropping in some rock or more plush arrangements than his frequent solo touring allows, while uniting his songs around lyrical themes (1997's Devotion + Doubt, following his marriage; 2000's The Hill, which puts music to the poetic epitaphs of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology). His latest is a consolidation of these efforts, following on the heels of his second divorce. Buckner works with a full band, and continues to trace confessional, slightly oblique stories that draw inspiration from writers such as Townes Van Zandt and Leonard Cohen, recalling contemporaries like Damien Jurado, Mark Eitzel, and Joe Henry. Not as melancholy or dark as Devotion + Doubt, the songs are full-bodied in construction and rife with a tender introspection that's more wistful than bitter. As always, Buckner's gruff yet delicate vocals -- like a despondent late-night phone call after a long evening of beer and cigarettes -- provides ballast for the fluttering folk strumming and haunting pedal steel peals. It's an album about resilience that lopes along injured but undeterred. Buckner's a particularly charismatic performer and has a catalogue of eight fine albums, which explains why he's as likely to forge new fans live as with his recorded output.

 
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